At Frontières, Dead North films head toward the big leagues

A screengrab of the Fish Out of Water movie poster.
A screengrab of the Fish Out of Water movie poster.

Three Dead North films rubbed shoulders with the likes of Hollywood and Netflix this week at Frontières, a Montréal film industry fair where filmmakers can network and woo funders for financing.

Yellowknife’s Jay Bulckaert, who co-founded Dead North with Pablo Saravanja, said Frontières – organized by the Fantasia International Film Festival – asked the NWT horror festival to submit 10 top films from the past few years.

Of those 10, Frontières then invited five to a pitching contest in Montréal, where filmmakers had to demonstrate how their short films could become full-length features.

Three northern projects made the cut: two from the Yukon and Yellowknifer Kirsten Carthew’s new film, Polaris.



There’s a real chance that something like Kirsten’s film will become a big film.JAY BULCKAERT, DEAD NORTH

As far as Bulckaert knows, this is the first time anyone from the North has pitched a film at Frontières.

The Yukon films went through a stream meant to help develop them into features, but Carthew’s film, which is at a more polished stage, was part of the official competition.

“This is for people at a higher level who already have the script, they’ve already got some funding … and they’re just looking for additional financing or additional producing help,” explained Bulckaert.



Carthew’s project is based on her 2015 Dead North short Fish Out of Water.

“There are so many people out there in the world who love the film, and gave me great feedback and were really encouraging me to build on this story world,” Carthew told Cabin Radio.

That world involves, in her words, “a woman travelling for fish and catching more than she angled for.”

Carthew said new movie Polaris is not simply the feature-length version of Fish Out of Water, but is “100 percent inspired” by it.

Being selected in the Frontières does not come with a specific prize or timeline. Instead, Carthew and fellow winners continue conversations with their new partners, who then collectively work out a relationship that makes mutual sense.

“The reality is that if all goes well,” said Bulckaert, “in about one or two years’ from now, hopefully those films are made. So that’s three films out of the North.

“By then we will have come down yet again to Fantasia after Dead North next year, and hopefully have two or three more films that are following the same sort of trajectory.

“There’s a real chance that something like Kirsten’s film will become a big film,” he said. “[Frontières] has proven to be a real launching place to get films made here in Canada.”



‘Could not have gone better’

Polaris has a budget of $2 million, Carthew said. She and Yukoner Max Fraser, with whom she’s working on the film, have raised 65 percent of that. They went to Frontières hoping to fill the gap.

“I think we met with about 60 people representing companies from all over the world,” said Carthew, describing three-and-a-half days of meetings following the pitching contest.

“During those meetings, we had incredible interest in partnering with us. It was really an introduction to partners who have a keen interest in our project and now want to read the materials and further those conversations.

“In terms of an opportunity, it was extraordinary. It could not have gone better in terms of engaging interest from key industry players.”

Carthew and Fraser hope to close the financing gap within the next few months so the movie can be filmed in the winter of 2020.

The movie will be filmed in the North – although Carthew said a few scenes will be filmed elsewhere “because we have animals that we can’t fly in.”

Polaris won’t be Carthew’s first feature film. In 2016 she released The Sun at Midnight, the first full-length feature to be completely shot in the Northwest Territories.