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Yukon filmmaking duo nabs prize at Dead North

Somewhere in the Yukon, a young woman with mysterious powers is being held captive in a secret facility. After a suicide attempt, she finds the strength she needs to escape from the doctor.

Somewhere in the Yukon, a young woman with mysterious powers is being held captive in a secret facility.

After a suicide attempt, she finds the strength she needs to escape from the doctor who has been tormenting her for years.

That’s the premise behind Subject Six, the latest short film from Whitehorse filmmakers Dave Hamelin and Neil Macdonald.

Described as a “dark sci-fi thriller,” the six-minute film recently screened at the Dead North Film Festival in Yellowknife, N.W.T., where it won the award for best editing.

Shot on a shoestring budget of less than $1,000, Subject Six was written, filmed and edited in about 10 days at the end of February and beginning of March.

It was familiar territory for the filmmaking team, which has taken part in similar festivals where films are made at lightning speed.

“The thing that’s great about Dead North is they give you more like nine weeks to do it, so you don’t feel rushed,” Hamelin said.

“It accommodates people with day jobs. For us though we ended up doing it in less than two weeks just because of our schedules.

“We were preparing for it in February but since there’s so much going on here in that month, my peers were all involved in other things.”

Dead North is the annual horror-film festival that challenges teams North of 60 to make short films on little-to-no budgets.

Sixteen films were entered in this year’s competition, which expanded its boundaries to include science fiction and fantasy films for the first time.

That was particularly appealing to Hamelin, who had been sitting on the idea for Subject Six for eight years, waiting for the right opportunity to dust it off the shelf.

“I love it when genres cross together, which doesn’t happen very often,” he said, “but when it’s done well it can be great, like the Alien franchise for example.

“I’ve had the idea for this for a long time and it partly stems from scenes in Terminator 2, when Sarah Connor is being interviewed in the psychiatric ward.”

Hamelin, 32, and Macdonald, 33, have been best friends for the past 20 years.

Their symbiotic relationship has worked well so far. Although they co-write and co-direct, Hamelin takes care of the post-production tasks while Macdonald does cinematography and lighting duties.

In 2012, they were among four teams selected across Canada to take part in the National Screen Institute’s Features First program, based on their short film called Fragments.

The six-month program pairs budding filmmakers with mentors and industry professionals.

Inspired by the Tagish Lake meteor explosion in 2000, Fragments was meant to become a feature-length film but funding obstacles have sidetracked the project so far. That’s because the feature film landscape in Canada has changed considerably over the past five to 10 years, Macdonald said, making it harder for first-time filmmakers to access funding opportunities.

“With the accessibility of equipment now there’s been an explosion in independent filmmaking, so the market has become saturated,” he said.

“Funding has decreased and it’s become a lot more competitive. We basically need to self-finance a micro-budget feature if we want to make one.”

One option is to go down the crowd-funding route and raise money online, while another is to make a high-quality short film that would serve as a teaser for a full-length feature.

They might also share Subject Six in its entirety, in the hopes that it catches someone’s attention.

“We’ve been trying to get a feature film off the ground for the past five years, and it ain’t easy,” Hamelin said.

“But we’ve come closer than most. We have the talent and the crew, now we’re just figuring out what the next best step is for us.”

The film will screen, among others, as part of the Available Light Cinema series on April 19 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

The trailer for Subject Six can be viewed at

Contact Myles Dolphin at