In the pre-dawn twilight of an Alaskan shore, a young Native woman reflects on the story of Ada Blackjack, the sole survivor of a disastrous 1921 Arctic expedition, and the loneliness she must have felt waiting for a rescue through the months-long polar night.

Production and Core Theme

Based on the book “Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic” by Jennifer Niven, Ada Blackjack Rising introduces audiences to the Alaska Native heroine through the eyes of a young Native woman living in a rural Alaskan village.

The team began production in 2019 and finished in 2020, amid the global COVID pandemic. Shot near Anchorage, the original plan was to shoot the opening scenes on-location in the Bering Straits region of Alaska. When travel restrictions were put into place, the team pivoted to relying on a photographer in Shishmaref, Dennis Davis (Iñupiaq), to capture the visuals. The production is an example of creativity used to overcome distance and isolation.

Screenwriter Don Rearden comments, “Ada Blackjack’s story is the tale the world needs right now. A story of resilience, courage, and unfettered strength in the face of impossible odds. We all feel isolated and trapped on an inescapable island right now amidst this pandemic, and Ada shows us a path through the darkness. We can — and must — follow her example.”

Produced by Holly Mititquq Nordlum (Iñupiaq) and Paddy Eason, and directed by Brice Habeger, the team worked closely with an Alaska Native cast. The majority of the film is spoken in Iñupiaq by Nome resident and teacher, Madelyn Alvanna-Stimpfle. Original music was composed by Chris David (Tlingit) of Juneau.

Holly Mititquq Nordlum reflects on her own heritage, Native from Northwestern Alaska, in seeing Ada as an inspirational role model, “We are all, Ada! Her struggle is ours, surviving in the harshest climate against all odds, and still, we are here.”

The production spanned a distance from London, UK, with Executive Producer/ VFX Supervisor, Paddy Eason, working collaboratively on story and VFX with editor/ director, Brice Habeger, in Alaska.

Talking on the importance of working on this short film, Paddy Eason, Executive Producer/ VFX Supervisor, says, “I’ve been fascinated by Arctic stories all my life, and when I came across the story of Ada Blackjack, it surpassed them all. I was blown away by Ada’s grit, her ingenuity, and humility. Her whole life, the world was stacked against her, and yet she never gave up. I knew I had to find a way to bring her story to the world. Together with the Alaska team, we have made this short film that reflects a small part of Ada’s life. There is so much more to tell.”

Our team made the effort to secure permission to pursue the telling of Ada Blackjack’s story from her living descendants. We relied on Alaska Native collaborators to honor Ada in a way that remained authentic to her Iñupiaq heritage. We could not have put this short film together without so many indigenous partners’ help and support. This short pays tribute to a woman who went to the edge of the earth and back. We honor her legacy and what she overcame. This short film is like a slice of cheesecake. It’s dense and delicious in one small 5-minute bite. We hope this is the first taste of more Ada Blackjack stories.

-says Brice Habeger, producer.