Slash/ Back director Nyla Innuksuk and her story of teenage girls in a remote community battling an alien invader is a film that is a labor of love for her.
Slash/ Back is set and shot in the Inuit hamlet of Pangnirtung in Canada and features a cast almost entirely composed of local residents. Inuksuk, who grew up in the Inuit hamlet of Igloolik, shot the film in "Pang" with a crew of 50 people in 2019.
With the film now enjoying a limited theatrical release and overwhelmingly positive reviews, Innuksuk spoke to Digital Trends about the experience of not only making Slash/ Back, but making it the way she always knew the film should be.
Digital Trends says that this is a very personal project for you, well beyond your feature directorial debut. What is it like to see a warm reception after being out there for a long time?
It's amazing. I like the actors and the girls. It has been a long time since we worked together and seeing them grow up with this movie. It has been great. The proof of concept for the film was shot when the girls were young. The project began with me and the cast, and then we found our producers, and everyone else in our crew, to help make it happen. We believed that we could make it happen.
What did you do to assemble the cast?
I knew the process of casting would be different when I was shooting the proof of concept. It didn't feel like it would make a lot of sense because there aren't casting agents in Iqaluit or Nunavut We held acting workshops for young women and invited kids to participate. We shot the proof of concept after I tried different girls with different partners. We got the project going by doing that.
The way they talk and interact feels like extensions of the kids themselves. What happened to that part of the characters?
When I was developing the script, I traveled up to Iqaluit and went out with the girls on boats and watched scary movies with them. We had a lot of conversations about what it meant to be proud of where you come from, and how they spoke about it.
These characters go on a journey in which they realize their town is worth fighting for and that they're uniquely capable of taking on that threat, and we saw these girls who have wrestled with shame in their indigeneity becoming so proud of the movie.
The way that they have grown up with the movie has been an amazing experience for me, because these are things that they wouldn't have said a few years ago.
The film's location is important to the story. The film was shaped by Pang. It was important to tell the story in the film and in the real world.
One of the most beautiful places I have ever been is there. It is not the same as the rest of theArctic. Igloolik is where I live. It is a beautiful island that is very flat. When I was in college, I went to Pang to make a documentary about the tradition of square dancing. It was brought in by the Scottish whalers in the 1800's and is now considered to be part of Inuit tradition with accordion music and square dances.
Is that the dance we see in the movie?
Absolutely! It's absolutely true! I fell in love with this place and the mountains and the community in the middle of thefjords. My brother fell in love with a girl from the community of Pang, and now my nephew are from there as well. The chance to make an alien invasion movie that was set in their hometown was a treat for me.
How did you decide on the aliens' appearance?
The process was enjoyable. My co- writer and I were trying to figure out what the creatures were. When someone takes over an animal and uses their skin as a disguise, how do we make that happen? Troy James is an amazing contortionist. He can do crazy things if he bends over backwards. We made the skin suits that Troy would wear.
We made a huge bear costume for Troy to wear upside down. He was only allowed to wear it when he was walking upside-down, and it was very hot and sweaty, and we made him film for a day running down a hill. We didn't use any of it
I like the look of practical effects and the movie The Thing with its great practical effects, but the movement of the bear with Troy in costume looked a little too campy. We changed it to a computer-generated bear that was inspired by Troy. We have to work with a whole new group of nerds to figure out what happened after all of that and the edit was finished. It was a new type of fun.
What is the title of the movie? What happened to it?
Are you really interested in knowing? I don't like to write titles. I saved the essays until the end. I had to pitch Slash/ Back at a certain point. The idea of these girls fighting back was what inspired the Slash/ Back title. They were going to retaliate if someone came after them.
As the creatures evolved, they had slicers that could cut you before you bled to death. I was really excited because it was late in the prep process. They cut and then the girls cut back. The title was finally right.
The score for the film was amazing, and I was sent down a rabbit hole to learn about Inuit throat singing. Setting up the music in the film was something that had to be done.
Nancy Mike is an amazing person. She is a great throat singer and performer. She was a member of a group called The Jerry Cans. Whenever there is music playing in the background at a party, it is usually an Inuk artist. The DJs from Halluci Nation used to use a lot of crazy vocalizations when aliens came into a scene. There would be strange vocalizations in those scenes.
I was friends with Halluci Nation. I worked on an interactive virtual reality music video with them as Tribe Called Red before, so when I was making a movie, they kept suggesting we should do something together I asked if they were asking to do the score for my film. The answer will always be yes if you are. We had a script, but they came on before us.
MichaelBrook was brought on to do some additional work for us. The team was really good. Nancy sent a version of the song to the DJs at Halluci Nation. A lot of the work on the film was done by people that hadn't worked together before.
Slash/ Back is available in theaters and on-demand.