Life in Canada’s north has proven to be something of a muse for Melissa Antony.
Antony, who grew up at the Lake of the Prairies and attended high school in Yorkton, but has lived in Yellowknife, NT since November 2019, said her film came about as a result of various influences.
Antony made her way north after being offered a position with the Government of the Northwest Territories last autumn and decided to jump on the opportunity.
“I flew up with my son and our cat in early November and spent the darkest months of the year getting to know the city which is how I came across the Dead North Film Festival.”
The festival is a short genre film-making event that is open to “all the good people freezing their faces off North of 60,” related the Dead North website.
Over the course of two months, filmmakers from the circumpolar world produce original films in some of the world’s coldest climates.
Established in 2012, over 170 short films have been produced and many of these films have gone on to screen at major festivals around the world, including Cannes, imagineNATIVE, Blood in the Snow, Fantasia, BFI, NYC Horror Film Festival, Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival and many more
Finding out about the festival the idea of film crept into Antony’s mind.
“I was first inspired after meeting a sealskin fashion artist, watching her working on the pelts and seeing everyone walking around the city in furs,” explained Antony via email.
That became a germ of an idea for the short film Frozen In Time.
So, why did Antony think the film was worth making?
“Truthfully, I was just interested in integrating into the community,” she related. “A few people that I met told me about the festival and it seemed like a fun opportunity to get involved in something that I am already passionate about.”
Film has always been something which attracted Antony.
During her Masters studies, she was hired as a Research Associate in the Department of Visual and Media Anthropology at the Free University of Berlin.
“This is where my passion for film really began,” she said.
“I also worked at Al-Film Arabic Film Festival of Berlin at the time and had free access to all of the classes in the MA program. Although I didn’t have much time outside of my own studies, I visited a few classes and had the incredible opportunity to work with and sit under the instruction of some of the best visual anthropologists in the world who were teaching in the program at the time. They were such an inspiration.
“My first film was Cognitive Justice: An Introduction to 150 years of Indigenous Education which I produced when I returned from Berlin to work for the Yorkton Tribal Council. The film was so significant and I felt strongly about sharing the importance of Indigenous education to the general public of Yorkton and creating a space for the public to learn about the perspectives and history of the Nations that surround Yorkton. I had no formal training in editing or filming before that, however, I continued to create a library of resources for the Tribal Council on elders’ knowledge to pass down to future generations.”
For the five-minute short Antony went into a more mythical world to fit with the festival she was targeting the film toward. She said the north has a natural feel of isolation she drew upon.
“There is a certain eeriness, darkness, remoteness and time when your mind wanders in this setting,” she said. “I can see how the organizers came up with the concept of this festival (which is a horror, sci-fi, fantasy film festival)!
“I lost a friend to suicide a few years ago and the nature of my work in Child and Family Services along with some of the truly sad realities of the north inspired the film. I believe mental health is an important topic and something that should be addressed openly.”
The film draws on that.
“The film is about a parallel scenario of a single mom that takes her life and a daughter that is wondering where her mother has gone,” offered Antony.
As might be expected, filming in the Northwest Territories offers some challenges.
“There is a really short window of light in December/January in Yellowknife,” said Antony. “I wanted the main scene shot at dusk so everything had to be planned precisely to not miss the 20-minute window of the sun setting.”
Then there was the cold.
“We shot both scenes in minus-50 weather, so getting the shots was a new challenge in terms of frostbite,” said Antony. “I couldn’t use a tripod as I need to be able to move around so that meant holding the camera in my hands and it was absolutely freezing!
“I had a blanket scarf draped over my head and the camera to prevent the wind from blowing directly on my skin.
“Filming in these extremes is something I don’t think many Hollywood producers can even begin to imagine.”
Antony said the cold really left its impression on her, as it impacted filming in unimagined ways.
“In addition to the frigid temperatures, frostbite, having to run to the car to warm up every five minutes, ice road traffic in the background, filming in the cold had some challenges I never expected until the moment when you are behind the camera and you know that you have a short time frame to get the shot without freezing, without too much traffic in the background and your nose starts to run! There’s no way you can sniff or it will be in the shot so you just have to bare through the two minutes and focus on staying still and not making a sound.
“There were many challenges filming in these extremes.”
Did the effort result in the film Antony had first envisioned?
“I first approached sealskin designer Cheryl Fennel to ask if she wanted to design the costumes for my production. She happily agreed. The vision is partly her’s and the actress was so incredibly talented, I would have to say that I never imagined that it would come together like it did,” she said.
“The footage is beautiful and I am more than satisfied to have created a production alongside other empowered women!
“I think the story is an important one and as a topic that is rather taboo and difficult to discuss, art is always the best medium to explore complex topics and emotions.”
Now comes the effort to get eyes on the film.
“The target audience for the moment is just going to be the Dead North Festival goers,” said Antony.
“I will submit the film to a few other festivals worldwide through my film freeway account, however, the premise of the festival is quite specific and unique so I’m not sure what the future of the film looks like at this point.
“The film has only been previewed by the Dead North organizers and they loved it! They said it is a unique script and footage compared to what they have seen thus far and has something David Lynch about it.”
The film will be available to view on the Dead North Film Festival website, (www. deadnorth.ca), after the screening. Two films at the festival are chosen to become feature length films so Antony hopes to return to the story with a longer script one day soon.