Dylan, a Gwich’in soldier from the Canadian Arctic, is in a laneway in Panjwayi, Afghanistan when he comes face to face with the realization that his Pashtun translator, Aman, has betrayed him and his unit. Aman looks up into Dylan’s eyes as bullets fly, sweat falls, and dust rises around the barrel of Dylan’s McMillan Tac-50. A moment later the bare brown feet of Aman’s seven year-old son, Tahir, appear and Dylan sees in Aman’s eyes a silent plea, “Don’t kill me in front of my son”. Dylan hesitates… and in that moment is seized by Taliban rebels.
Dylan and the Pashtun family, including Aman’s 26 year-old daughter Khatira, are imprisoned by the Taliban at the family’s summer compound deep inside a valley in south-eastern Afghanistan. Hooded and chained in a small room, Dylan is released into a new darkness as Taliban leader Ramiz, who is also Aman’s cousin, arrives and begins an interrogation that threatens his life and sanity. Aman pleads with Ramiz to set his family free – he has lived up to his side of the bargain: his daughter’s life spared for his participation in the ambush. Rather than releasing them from his terrifying grasp Ramiz uses Tahir to find new ways to control them.
Time drifts and Dylan’s lacerated mind retreats to the Arctic and thoughts of his first love – his thirteen year-old Inuvialuit cousin, Asana, and their ill-fated attempt to run away to be together across the vast white tundra of the Mackenzie Delta. Inside his cell in Afghanistan the interrogation intensifies and Dylan takes strength from memories of the words written in Asana’s small black book which he carries – her attempt to record her words for snow in the Inuvialuktun language. Dylan’s bloodied spirit finds refuge in thoughts of Asana beside him, naked in the dark of a small Arctic shelter, together forever… until being found by their family and separated… Dylan beaten, and taken back to his village, Asana cared for by women elders but, lost inside herself, walking out onto the tundra after cutting her wrists, her blood falling red on the snow.
As his memories recede, Dylan returns to the reality of the cell and Ramiz towering over him, Asana’s black book now in his hands: he is convinced her words for snow are a conspiracy, the Canadian “Indian” must certainly be a spy – an outcome punishable by death. Videotaped and brought down like an animal, Dylan prepares himself for death. As Aman and Tahir stand helplessly by, Ramiz wields his dagger, bringing the sharp blade to Dylan’s neck, when Khatira now dressed as an Afghan man enters the room and shoots the Taliban leader down.
Released, Dylan and the Pashtun family escape – their journey of survival just beginning, their betrayals dwarfed by treacherous landscapes and threats both feared and unseen as they make their way through an impenetrable mountain range towards Pakistan. They become closer, now a family with no borders and just one enemy. As they climb a final mountain to freedom, a snowfall becomes a blizzard, the Taliban close in, and Dylan, Aman, Tahir and Khatira begin to understand that Asana’s words for snow hold the ultimate key to their survival. Dylan’s arctic is their refuge and Khatira’s love is a new beginning.
The Far North meets the Middle East in a journey of loss and rebirth that lays bare the land, blood ties, and two ancient cultures that collide to re-imagine a future born of 10,000 words for snow.
Dene – the people
Pashtun – the mountain people
Inuvialuit – the real people