When a young girl hears a knock at her door, she is faced not with the seemingly innocent elder at her doorstep, but the shapeshifting Nahga – a creature similar to the Boogie Man.

That was the premise for a short horror film that won Mason Mantla $10,000 at the Dead North Film Festival pitch contest.

“For Mason, one of the main things (for him winning was) when he told us and got up and pitched, everyone was completely enthralled, people were floored and could envision it just the way he told the story,” said Dead North and Artless Collective co-founder, Jay Bulckaert.

The annual horror film festival hosted the pitch contest for the first time this year in partnership with Artless Collective.

The winner receives funding, provided equally by Dead North and Artless Collective, along with the services needed to bring the project to life.

Of the 10 people who participated Feb. 28, Mantla’s story came out on top because of the way he drew the crowd in.

Behchoko filmmaker Mason Mantla won the Dead North pitch competition for his short horror film about a shapeshifting creature called Nahga. Photo by Mason Mantla.

“Before they even said my name (as the winner), I was super nervous,” said Mantla. “But when I start to tell the story that was handed down to me, I get lost in it. I start telling the story of this girl and what happens to her and what she does. Before I know it, I’ve used up all my time – it felt like a minute, but it’s been five minutes.”

Mantla’s story follows a young girl who one night, when babysitting her siblings, encounters an old woman and invites her inside.

The siblings soon realize it is Nagha – who is known for stealing children – and the grave danger they’re in.

Taking place in the 1960’s, Mantla first heard this particular tale a few years ago through a friend in Behchoko.

“I wanted to show Nahga on the big screen because it’s such a staple within the communities. Everybody has heard of Nahga,” Mantla explained. “Every family has its own story and it’s so prevalent in the North, but there’s not a whisper of it anywhere else.”

The pitch contest was introduced as a way to help Dead North evolve and create content that can be shared with the world, said Bulckaert. Each project must be around 10 to 15 minutes long, within the genre of sci-fi, fantasy or horror and must be “visionary and bold.”

“We were not interested in a slasher pic; we wanted to see something new and original,” he added.

The contest allowed competitors five minutes to present their ideas and answer any questions that came their way.

Bulckaert and Pablo Saravanja, Dead North and Artless Collective co-founder, acted as judges alongside two others.

That included Colin Geddes – a curator at Shudder, the leading online video network for horror fans – and Karen Walton – a film and television writer. She is best known for writing the indie horror classic, Ginger Snaps.

Photo by Pablo Saravanja. Mason Mantla at the ImagineNATIVE film festival in Toronto last year.

Mantla has been competing in the horror film festival for the last five years and has won two awards within that time – one for audience favourite and another for best use of Northern elements.

His love for filmmaking began much earlier when him and his friends created skits and mini documentaries that they shared with family and friends.

“I’m pretty sure they didn’t think it was that great, but they sure encouraged us and supported us,” he said.

While Mantla continues with filmmaking in his everyday life, through creating media for the Tlichǫ government, his Dead North win will provide him the tools to keep flourishing.

“I’ve never had a real professional team behind me and I think this is a great opportunity for me as a filmmaker to take that next step, to work with people who have done this longer than I have and who know the in’s and out’s of the scene or the film festival circuit,” he added.

The final project will be presented at next year’s Dead North Film Festival.


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