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Sinister snowmen. Zombie-polar bear hybrids. Satanic grapes. A cat and a tear in the time-space continuum.

This year’s Dead North Film Festival features the usual fare of the weird and wacky, showcasing an array of made-in-the-North horror, sci-fi, fantasy and comedy-fused shorts — part of a “mind-melting” lineup of all-things macabre.

While the popular circumpolar genre festival, presented by Artless Collective, has remained true to its vision since its inception in 2012, the annual celebration of collaborative filmmaking North of 60 is getting bigger, better and more inclusive, says Dead North founder and president Jay Bulckaert.

Of the 46 films screening this week — a big leap from the four featured in Dead North’s inaugural year — more than ever are coming from outside of the capital.

Guests attending the festival, which kicks off Thursday night, will catch offerings from directors based in Fort Smith, Hay River, Tulita, Inuvik and more.

The “exciting” influx in submissions from NWT communities outside Yellowknife is a testament to Dead North’s growing reach and recognition within the film industry, both nationally and overseas, according to Bulckaert.

“It’s really fun to see the word of Dead North is spreading,” he said. “These folks are making these films knowing they’re probably not going to fly here and see their film play. So they’re just making them out of the goodness of their heart to be part of this.”

Along with features from small communities, guests at this year’s festival can expect more ensemble pieces — and projects that push creative boundaries.

Team members behind Welcome to Tundradome, a Dead North short filmed in Yellowknife, warm up their camera in -54 weather. The piece is produced by Jessica Davey-Quantick and Jill Rivera. Photo courtesy of Hannah Eden.

“People are getting a lot more creative now. It’s not just horror or sci-fi films. People are making surreal comedies — experimenting more with the nuances of the genre and that’s exciting to see,” he said.

Dead North, made possible each year thanks to the efforts of its board, volunteers and a host of community sponsors, is seeing more youth involvement, too. The festival is dedicating the first half of tonight’s showing to screen the work of young directors, including the short Eat Your Carrots, a fantasy-horror film from the mind of 9-year-old Jack Penney.

While the festival isn’t youth-focused, Bulckaert said it’s become that youth, families and teachers want to participate in Dead North. “We welcome that,” he said.

Dead North 2020 also marked a formal recognition of the importance of respecting Indigenous stories and storytelling. The festival recently implemented a guide for filmmakers to help them understand the importance of including Indigenous voices in the stories that features their experiences and history. “Nothing about us without us,” is a mantra that sums up the guidelines, said Bulckaert.

One big ‘weird, loving’ family

After nearly a decade, Bulckaert said he’s still amazed at the concerted efforts of filmmakers — dedicating two to three months of their year in frigid temperatures — who bring their work to the screen year after year.

“But we know why people do it. It’s the same reason we do it — this is a way for us all to battle the winter up here and be part of a community of filmmakers that is so supportive,” said Bulckaert.

“Dead North has become one big, twisted, weird, loving family and everyone’s out there trying to help each other.”

The festival’s success, he said, has been making noise in the film industry.

“People in the genre-film industry know who we are. It’s becoming something that’s known and respected nationally and internationally,” said Bulckaert.

“It’s almost like it doesn’t matter how crazy the movies are. Everyone — men, women, older people, younger people —comes to Dead North,” he added.

Since its launch, Dead North has brought 220 Northern films to the screen.

The film festival, hosted at the Capitol Theatre, runs until Sunday.

Tickets are still available for both showings Thursday. They are sold out for early screenings on Friday and Saturday, but tickets are still up for grabs for late showings happening on the same days. Tickets are can still be purchased Sunday’s super screening, when all films will be played back to back.

Tickets can be purchased online at https://deadnorth.ca/

Here’s a breakdown of showtimes for Dead North 2020:

Thursday, Feb 27, 2020 – Early worm
7:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Thursday, Feb 27, 2020 – Encore
9:50 pm – 12:20 am
Friday, Feb 28, 2020 – Early worm
7:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Friday, Feb 28, 2020 – Encore
9:50 pm – 12:20 am
Saturday, Feb 29, 2020 – Early worm
7:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Saturday, Feb 29, 2020 – Encore
9:50 pm – 12:20 am
Sunday, Mar 1, 2020 – Super Screening

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Brendan Burke

As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility...

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