Meet Mako, the famous whitehorse pup who made her way to stardom in the arctic thriller Polaris

Jane Bell holds up her star pup, Mako.  (Robyn Burns/CBC - photo credit)

Jane Bell holds up her star pup, Mako. (Robyn Burns/CBC – photo credit)

When Jane Bell asks Mako to speak, the five-year-old husky lets out a series of sharp barks.

Immediately noticeable by his mismatched blue and brown eyes, the well-trained pup is a Whitehorse rescue dog that Bell and Boris Hoefs adopted from the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter about four years ago. She’s also a new celebrity and the movie she recently starred in – a dystopian arctic thriller Polaris — will premiere in the city on Saturday at the Available Light Film Festival.

“It’s a rags to riches story, and everyone loves that,” Hoefs said.

Robyn Burns/CBC

Robyn Burns/CBC

Polaris, Directed by Yellowknife’s Kirsten Carthew and filmed in the Yukon, the filmmaker described it as an “all-female survival fantasy thriller.” It follows a 10-year-old girl and her polar bear mother as they face danger and difficulty to follow the North Star.

Whitehorse producer Max Fraser, one of three producers who worked on the film, said Polaris marks a milestone for the Yukon screen industry: the first Yukon-owned majority-owned feature film to be 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 television series…there are a lot of things we don’t have that we could have. And I’m really hopeful because there’s so much great talent in this community.”

The film premiered at the Fantasia International Film Festival in July and has been showing at festivals ever since, he said. He’s glad Yukoners are finally getting a chance to see it.

“I just wish I could have shown it to people a lot sooner,” he said.

Robyn Burns/CBC

Robyn Burns/CBC

Mako appears with the main antagonists in the film, but her role is more neutral — “a bit of a middleman,” Bell said. She plays the character of Two Eyes, who Bell says appears to have a positive relationship with the main character despite her affiliation.

When the casting call originally came for dogs with two different colored eyes, friends who knew Mako sent it to Bell and Hoefs. Given that Mako fit the description perfectly, Bell and Hoefs thought she would be a good choice for the role.

“We thought it was a cool idea — we didn’t really know much about it,” Hoefs said.

However, the audition itself was no easy feat. Mako joined a whole group of dogs being put through their paces.

“We stand there and say, ‘Wow, all these dogs are so beautiful,'” Bell said. “We think 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 underwent rigorous training to take on the role. Bell said they had a local dog trainer come in once a week during the pandemic and then spent the rest of the week practicing what they learned.

“We practiced and the next week she came over and we learned another trick,” she said.

Mako was of course well rewarded for her efforts. The money she made from the film went towards some extra weekly adventures with a local dog handler and trainer, among other necessities like vet bills and food.


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