Dead North’s new mission: get northern movies to bigger stages

The world’s only “circumpolar genre film festival,” Dead North, returns from February 27 to March 1, 2020. Registration is now open for filmmakers with a penchant for the horrific, gory, fantastical, and absurd.

For eight years, the creators behind Dead North have been terrifying audiences and providing a platform for filmmakers at any level to flex their creative muscle.

The festival is unique in allowing any filmmakers, including first-timers, to take part – provided they live north of 60. Entries can be wide-ranging: submissions are accepted for original short films in the realms of “horror, science fiction, thriller or fantasy.”


The shooting environment is also one of a kind. Filmmakers produce their shorts in the dead of winter when temperatures dip down to the minus 30s, fake blood freezes within seconds, and camera batteries die in minutes.

Films that stand out get to take home a coveted Zombear award. The Zombears have come in different iterations over the years – last year’s was a lifelike polar bear with its face in a late stage of decomposition – and are awarded in categories including best death, best use of Indigenous language, and best villain.

Dead North is known for its posters, 2020 being no exception.

This year, festival founders Pablo Saravanja and Jay Bulckaert hope to help northern filmmakers get their entries into as many genre festivals as possible, in Canada and abroad. Some, they hope, will one day become longer features.

“In 2020, we are doubling down on our northern genre filmmakers in the hopes of creating an unstoppable army of high-level projects that can be unleashed into the national and international genre market,” Dead North president Bulckaert stated in a news release.


Of the 170 films so far entered for Dead North, creators say 40 have gone on to screen at festivals including ImagineNative, the Fantasia Film Festival, Blood in the Snow, and events in Estonia, France, and Serbia.

Kirsten Carthew’s 2014 short, Fish Out of Water, is now being made into a feature film. Carthew’s northern fantasy thriller, now named Polaris, will shoot in the Yukon next year after she pitched her project at the Frontières film industry fair.

Dead North, working with the Outpost 31 production house in Whitehorse, also hopes to launch a TV series.

To make Saravanja and Bulckaert’s goal a reality, a two-day “talent lab” will be held during the 2020 festival. Anyone who has made a Dead North film will be helped to prepare their project, and pitch, for festivals and possible development into a feature-length movie. Free for Dead North alumni, Bulckaert stated the goal behind the lab is to help launch filmmakers into the “genre stratosphere.”


Registration is now open for Dead North 2020. People who register will receive writing guidelines, including the two “northern elements” that must be included in each of this year’s films. Filmmakers have until December 20 to submit scripts – an earlier deadline than usual, intended to allow teams more time to shoot and edit before the February 3, 2020 deadline for the final short to be submitted.

Unsure of your inspiration for a script? Get delighted – or disgusted – with a night under the covers watching past Dead North films.