Don’t Get Killed in Alaska — the Premier November 5, 2014

When director Bill Taylor first started talking about Don’t Get Killed in Alaska, it struck me as raw, fresh and new. He wanted to make a film about a young woman from a working class family who, in these harsh economic times, is one-and-a-half bad decisions away from ruining her life.

Then she makes a bad decision.

Tommie-Amber Pirie as Liney

Tommie-Amber Pirie as Liney

Liney, as Bill started calling her—pronounced Leenie and short for Celine—is left with half a chance to make a life for herself by calling in every favour she can wrench from her bitterly-divorced parents and an older brother who is the success of the family. Or is he?

Don’t Get Killed in Alaska is one of those rare films that went from conception to camera at speed. One minute, Bill was settling on Liney’s name. The next, he was casting the wonderful Tommie-Amber Pirie, whose compact energy and dark-eyed vulnerability bring Liney to life.

Now the film heads into theatrical release this Friday in Toronto. Don’t Get Killed in Alaska will play at the Carlton Cinema for a week starting November 7, with both a matinee and a 7 p.m. showing every day.

Of course, even a fast-track project like this one requires an enormous amount of work. I first talked to Bill about Don’t Get Killed a year before it would go to camera, when the script was still in an early draft. Bill was both the writer and director. I was a story editor and later a co-producer on the project, which usually amounted to being a sounding board for Bill’s ideas as he sweated to make the film he wanted.

Bill’s idea was this: Liney’s boyfriend Dan (Ben Lewis) gets caught in a drug deal gone wrong. We learn between the lines that he and Liney have got to know each other over summer as tree-planters in the Maritimes. Dan is a little older, Liney’s first big love, and as he tries moving some weed for some local dealers, his stash gets stolen. Now the dealers are after Dan for their money. Liney doesn’t hesitate to bail Dan out, using up all her savings to give the dealers what they want.

At least, give them most of it. She doesn’t have quite enough, and Liney and Dan have to boot it out of the Maritimes to try to raise the rest of the money from their families. After paying off the dealers, they plan to drive up to Alaska for the winter to work on the fishing boats, trying to raise a new stake. So the life-changing mistake isn’t even Liney’s.

Or is it?

Among other things, the film is an exploration of who you can trust. Liney hears a constant burr in the background from TV and texts: protesters taking to the streets demonstrating their lack of trust in the direction society is going. Does Liney belong with them? Where does she belong? And, most important, can she find her way there or will she get lost on the way?