This viral short film brings Pokémon to life — and it could only have been made in Saskatchewan
Joel Kereluke and Luke Halyk have been able to reach massive worldwide audiences with their DIY films
Regina has a blossoming art scene with a firm sense of community, but the Saskatchewan city isn't always given the recognition it deserves on a national scale. While others flock to bigger cities like Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto to kickstart their careers, two young artists are thriving in the provincial capital by creating short films that have captured the attention of millions of viewers across the globe.
Joel Kereluke and Luke Halyk are the creative team behind Blister Cinema, a YouTube channel showcasing their short films. Their work pays homage to pop culture staples while pointing toward bigger themes of family and mythology. Recently, the duo put together a live-action Pokémon short shot in south Saskatchewan. The film, titled Pokémon: Call to Adventure, sees a young girl take the responsibilities of a Pokémon trainer when her grandfather, an aging professor, discovers a mysterious object. Since its release in mid-December, the short has racked up almost one million views.
"We loved Pokémon since we were little kids. The resurgence in popularity through Pokémon Go and the movie [Detective Pikachu] made it seem like the younger generation was starting to get into it. It seemed like a great time to make a cinematic homage to this thing we loved," Halyk tells CBC Arts. "Making it, we were hoping it might get some attention, but you never know. Within a month, the view count started to climb and it was really amazing to see."
The success of the short can be attributed in part to Pokémon's enduring legacy as an institution. Since the first game came out in 1996, the franchise has sold over 240 million units; the latest incarnation, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, sold more than 6 million copies on launch weekend in November 2019. Pokémon has also spun off into 19 different movies — but there has never been a live-action film depicting the start of the game, where the player first discovers the world of Pokémon and becomes a trainer.
"At the start of the game, your character starts off on this adventure," says Kereluke. "After that, the world you're in just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Pokémon was maybe the first video game I ever played and I remember how amazing that felt. We wanted to try and capture that in our short."
In addition to highlighting their love and nostalgia for the franchise, the film also allowed them to champion some of the lesser-known landscapes of Saskatchewan, showcasing that parts of their province are more than just prairies.
"Most of the province is pretty flat, but if you know where to look there are some real gem locations," says Kereluke. "We shot in two places: Qu'appelle Valley and Roche Percee. We thought the hills and the rock formations were really reminiscent of the world of Pokémon."
For most creators, a short film with nearly a million views is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. But for the team of Blister Cinema, the Pokémon video doesn't even approach their most successful work to date. Two live-action Minecraft videos — created when the team was still in high school — are now sitting at over 30 million views each. The viral status of the artists' work is proof that art from smaller communities can reach huge audiences through the democratization of the internet. Halyk and Kereluke actually attribute some of their success to growing up rural in Foam Lake and Wadena.
"My parents didn't even get internet in our house until I was about 13 years old," says Kereluke. "Once that happened, I was all in wanting to make YouTube videos. A big thing for us was watching tutorials and trying to learn. Not a lot of other people we knew were doing it, so it felt like we had something special, and that pushed us to get better."
"Growing up in that small town environment had a huge influence on our process," says Halyk. "We were the only ones interested in it. Filmmaking isn't something you really pursue in small-town Saskatchewan...We sought each other out and were able to focus because there aren't as many distractions."
Starting as a kid, making films all seemed out of reach because of where we were. Now we see that, through technology, anyone can do it.- Luke Halyk, Blister Cinema
The runaway success of their shorts is something that couldn't have happened before YouTube. Kereluke and Halyk were able to begin learning skills and creating their first films because of access to information and passion for their projects. The community-minded nature of Foam Lake and Wadena also gave them advantages and access to resources that they wouldn't have had in other places, with people in the community almost always available to help out with favours. "That's the type of support you get where we're from," says Kereluke.
Having gained viral status through their self-taught efforts at Blister Cinema, Halyk and Kereluke attended the University of Regina to hone their craft. Now that they've graduated, they're preparing to take on even bigger projects — but regardless of what comes next, they're excited by the prospect of making more work in Saskatchewan.
"It's very exciting and fulfilling and liberating to be making the work that we do," says Halyk. "Starting as a kid, making films all seemed out of reach because of where we were. Now we see that, through technology, anyone can do it."