Take me back to the NSI Drama Prize film gallery

Presented by the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation


An unstable teen couple living in a slum apartment is pushed to the brink when a rodent infestation forces them to face the larger, unspoken tension in their relationship: an unwanted pregnancy.

Creative team

Producers: Nelson Macdonald, Martha Cooley
Writer/director: Ashley McKenzie

Director’s statement

Ashley McKenzie says:

“With When You Sleep I wanted to capture the raw energy of a young couple who are trapped in a life with narrow options. The way they deal with a rodent infestation seemed to say things about their codependent relationship that they couldn’t communicate themselves.

The film is designed to be quite abrasive and troublesome but in in the end it was the quiet desperation of these misfit characters that inspired me the most. I felt there was a lot of sadness and strength in seeing them struggle with adult responsibilities, while just being kids themselves.”

About the creative team

When You Sleep team

Ashley McKenzie

Ashley is an emerging filmmaker from New Waterford, Nova Scotia.

Her film Rhonda’s Party was named one of Canada’s Top 10 Shorts by TIFF in 2011 and won the CBC’s Short Film Faceoff.

When You Sleep was presented at Cannes as part of Telefilm’s Not Short on Talent program.

Ashley is currently writing two features and preparing to shoot her third short film, Stray.

Nelson Macdonald

Nelson is a graduate of the Saint Mary’s University’s Film Studies program. He produced the short film Rhonda’s Party, which premiered at the 2010 Montreal World Film Festival.

In 2012, Nelson was selected by Telefilm Canada to attend the Cannes Film Festival with When You Sleep, as part of their Not Short on Talent program for emerging filmmakers.

He is a native of New Waterford but now lives and works in Halifax. In 2011 he co-founded grassfire films with his frequent collaborator and fellow Cape Bretoner, Ashley McKenzie. Together they are working towards shooting their first Cape Breton based short film in fall 2012.

Martha Cooley

Martha is the executive director of the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative, a resource centre for film training and production in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She oversees the administration of several film-training programs including FILM 5, a professional development program for emerging filmmakers.

Martha is a recipient of the 2011 Women of Excellence Awards in the Arts and Culture Division.

When You Sleep is her first film as an independent producer.

About the cast

Eve Harlow / Jessie


Eve started professionally auditioning in her last year of high school, and soon after booked her first two jobs in one day — an appearance in the Academy Award-winning comedy-drama film Juno (2007) and a part opposite Jennifer Beals in My Name is Sarah (2007), a comedy-drama television film.

Eve has since worked on everything from big-budget productions including the Ridley and Tony Scott-produced television miniseries The Andromeda Strain (2008) and independent films including Sheltered Life (2008), a drama film, and Paul Pontius (2008), a short drama film.

In 2008, she won a Leo Award for Best Supporting Female in a Dramatic Series for her work on the drama television series The Guard.

“Ashley knew exactly what she wanted with her film, but allowed for room to play, explore and discover, trusted both her cast and crew, and there was a sense of comradeship that one doesn’t come across often on set.” 

Winston De Giobbi / Lee


Winston lives in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia where he makes his films with family and late night passersby. His grandmother was a pen pal of actor Stacy Keach.

“Ashley gave me room to experiment with my character. Perhaps we were interested in showing you something not so easily digested as soon as the credits appear.”

Take me back to the NSI Drama Prize film gallery