When Jane Bell asks Mako to speak, the five-year-old husky lets out a series of sharp barks.
The well-trained pup, immediately noticeable for her mismatched blue and brown eyes, is a Whitehorse rescue Bell and Boris Hoefs adopted from the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter about four years ago. She’s also a new celebrity, and the film she recently starred in — dystopian Arctic thriller Polaris — is premiering in the city Saturday at the Available Light Film Festival.
“She’s a rags-to-riches story, and everyone loves that,” said Hoefs.
Polaris, directed by Yellowknife’s Kirsten Carthew and filmed in the Yukon, has been billed as an “all-female survivalist fantasy thriller” by the filmmaker. It follows a 10-year-old girl and her polar bear mother who face danger and hardship in a quest to follow the North Star.
Whitehorse producer Max Fraser, one of three producers who worked on the film, said Polaris is a milestone for the Yukon screen industry: the first majority-Yukon-owned feature film shot in the territory.
“Our little screen industry has come a long way,” he said. “We don’t have big production houses, we don’t have a big studio, we don’t have a TV series … there’s a lot of things we don’t have but could have. And I’m really hopeful, because there’s so much great talent in this community.”
The film premiered in July at the Fantasia International Film Festival, and it’s been on the festival circuit ever since, he said. He’s happy Yukoners finally have a chance to see it.
“I just wish I could have shown it to people a lot sooner,” he said.
Mako appears with the main antagonists in the film, but her role is more neutral — “a bit of a middle-woman,” said Bell. She plays the character of Two Eyes, who Bell said seems to have a positive relationship with the main character despite her affiliation.
When the casting call originally came for dogs with two differently coloured eyes, friends who knew Mako sent it to Bell and Hoefs. Given Mako fit the description perfectly, Bell and Hoefs thought she’d be a shoo-in for the part.
“We thought it seemed like kind of a cool idea — we didn’t really know too much about it,” Hoefs said.
The audition itself was no easy feat, though. Mako joined a whole group of dogs being run through their paces.
“We’re standing there like, ‘Wow, all these dogs are so beautiful,'” Bell said. “We’re like, she might not stand a chance.”
Two weeks later, they got the call from Carthew: Mako was a hit
Either Bell of Hoefs had to be on set with her at all times, and Mako went through some rigorous training in order to pull off the role. Bell said they had a local dog trainer come by once a week throughout the pandemic, and then spend the rest of the week practising what they learned.
“We’d practise, and the next week she’d come by and we’d learn another trick,” she said.
Mako, of course, has been well-rewarded for her toil. The money she made from the film has gone to pay for some extra weekly adventures with a local dogwalker and trainer, among other necessities like vet bills and food.
Written by April Hudson with files from Robyn Burns and Dave White
Related stories from around the North:
Norway: Certification marks help both Sami artisans and consumers, says council, Eye on the Arctic
Russia: German project to house everything published in Siberian and Arctic languages to seek new funding, Eye on the Arctic
Sweden: 2022 Gollegiella Nordic Sami language prize awarded in Stockholm, Eye on the Arctic
United States: How Inuit culture helped unlock power of classical score for Inupiaq violinist, Eye on the Arctic