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From Canadian lakes to Cannes: YK filmmaker scores big

We all have this fantasy: being approached by a stranger, scouted out from the crowd and whisked off to grander things.

Well that’s what happened to Yellowknife teacher Keith Robertson at this year’s Dead North Film Festival.

RELATED: 10 films take home awards at 2017 Dead North Film Festival

Robertson, a Grade 4 teacher at Range Lake North School, is also an amateur filmmaker. He premiered his short film BAIT! at the short film fest after nearly a decade away from the camera.

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Keith Robertson with the coveted Zombear prize. (Photo courtesy: Dead North on Facebook.)

His eight-minute film about a man on the lake didn’t take home the best picture, but it did win for best poster and caught the attention of judge Danny Lennon.

Robertson says he was at the awards ceremony on the Saturday night of the festival when one of the organizers called him over.

Lennon, who’s part of Telefilm Canada’s Not Short on Talent program, wanted to speak with him, and offered him a spot at the renowned Cannes Film Festival in France on the spot.

“I assumed it was just kind of a joke, just because it was so unbelievable,” Robertson said.

“Danny assured me that he’s not kidding. He wasn’t laughing or smiling or anything. He said ‘No, this is serious, you need to go and celebrate.’”

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Even now, Robertson says he doesn’t believe it to be true and is just coming to terms with everything.

“It’s very surreal,” he said.

A ‘pipe dream career path’

Robertson wrote, shot and edited BAIT! by himself, something that was a ‘balancing act’ between his work life and shooting on weekends to get the production done.

Behind the scenes of some of BAIT!’s “special” effects. (Photo courtesy: Keith Robertson.)

His film was one of 35 to debut during this year’s festival.

While he made films in high school and even unsuccessfully applied to study film in university, Robertson never ventured further than student films.

“That’s why it’s such an unbelievable thing,” he said. “This is such a big deal and I would have thought I would need to do my time before I got this kind of recognition.

“It’s always been kind of in the back of my mind as a potential, pipe dream career path but I’ve never really been in a place financially where it would make sense to drop everything and focus on it 100 per cent.”

For BAIT!, he said he wanted to shoot something not typically horror. It was his distinctly Northern story that Robertson says caught Lennon’s eye.

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“I tried to pick a topic that is sort of recognizably Northern,” he said. “It’s all shot outside, on the lake, it must have been -40C with the windchill so we didn’t have to pretend that it was cold.”

Pint-sized perspective 

Lennon wasn’t Robertson’s first critic, though. That role was reserved for his Grade 4 students.

“They were funny because unlike some of my friends whom I showed, my students, they didn’t hold back,” he admitted.

His students pointed out inconsistencies and gave him a child’s perspective of the film (meaning a very ‘unfiltered’ point of view) and helped him improve his story before it premiered.

Robertson is hoping to get time off in May to attend the festival in France. Where the elementary school teacher’s film career will go after that is still up in the air.

“I’m just trying to focus on teaching now,” he admitted. “It’s report card writing time, and I’m just sort of taking it one day at a time.”

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