Two years ago in the middle of the night, Adam Gray saw a figure in a white shroud at the foot of his bed. "I was quite terrified and I was trying to scream or move," said the Belleville resident, now 35. "I was completely paralyzed, except for my eyes."
The figure raised a hand, and Gray said he felt as though his soul was being pulled out of his body. Gray's wife, Jacqui, was alerted by muffled noise coming from her husband. She saw nothing unusual in the room, and shook him.
"As she shook me, it vanished," said Gray, who added the experience was so frightening he could not believe it had been a nightmare, as Jacqui had suggested.
But it became a recurring scare, and Gray was so shaken that he began researching its symptoms. He learned about sleep paralysis, a condition experienced by an estimated 20 percent of the world's population. One scientific theory says the mind and eyes wake up before the sleeping body, leaving the limbs still immobilized from sleep. In some cases, scientists say, the victim's mind may produce some sort of ghost or creature as a way of explaining the paralysis. Some people feel as though they're being suffocated; others have many more symptoms. Gray wanted to learn more, and since he was already in partnership with his brother Andrew in Graymatters Video Productions, a documentary seemed the best route.
When Andrew Gray first heard his brother's story, he had a typical brotherly reaction: "that he was nuts. "It took some convincing," Andrew, 32, said this week.
But in time, the pair developed a solid proposal for The Nightmare, a film exploring the subject. They recruited Canadian producer Paul Stephens, whose work includes Beowulf & Grendel, Ordinary Magic, and TV's Torso: The Evelyn Dick Story. They'd met earlier when Stephens, a frequent visitor to the Quinte region, wandered into their former Pinnacle Street office out of curiosity.
The Grays made their pitch to VisionTV at Toronto's Hot Docs film festival. "From the first few words of their pitch, it was exactly what we were looking for," said Joan Jenkinson, VisionTV's director of independent productions and The Nightmare's executive producer. "It was a fresh perspective," she said. "Their vision was also big. "I took a chance with them because I didn't really know anything about them," she told The Intelligencer.
Jenkinson said once work was underway, however, "They blew me away." Together, VisionTV and Space: The
Imagination Station gave The Nightmare the green light.
"In order to pull off such an ambitious project on the budget we had, we really had to get our hands dirty," Adam said. For the next two years, the Grays travelled from Japan to the African island of Zanzibar, filming interviews with
people who'd had sleep paralysis and scientists who have studied it.
"I'd never left the continent before, so it was all new and strange," said Andrew. Every culture they visited had a different name for the nightmarish experience. But in each, a strange creature visited victims in the night, terrorizing the person and sometimes creating the sensations of being choked or, in Zanzibar, physical signs of rape.
Newfoundlanders spoke of "the hag," a witch who attacked sleepers. In Japan, one woman said the face of her father on the figure choking her. And in Zanzibar, a witch doctor told Gray he had been possessed by evil spirits, then performed an exorcism on him. In California, a Hmong shaman from southeast Asia performed another ceremony on him, ending his recurring experiences.
Scientists, meanwhile, offered theories on whether or not the experience was a hallucination or something else entirely. Some of the evidence seen in The Nightmare seems to indicate it may be much more than a bad dream, at least in some instances.
The brothers' roughly 43-minute film aired on VisionTV's Enigma March 5. It's expected to repeat and air on Space as well, though no dates have been set. The brothers are hoping it could lead to much more, and that may be happening. The Nightmare was the first broadcast project written and directed by the Grays. VisionTV's Jenkinson liked what she saw.
"They are my best find of the year," Jenkinson said without hesitation. "Throughout the whole process they were very, very professional and very creative, and the product we got at the end was fantastic. The writing was also very dramatic; they told a very good story."
Jenkinson has already agreed to use a new half-hour cut of The Nightmare in her new series, "Supernatural Investigator" It's a rebranding of Enigma, and aims to explain paranormal and supernatural phenomena. The brothers from Belleville have a place in the new brand, she said.
"We have full intention on moving forward with them on at least a couple of projects."
The Grays have pitched her ideas for four new documentaries covering everything from clairvoyance to black magic. If they're accepted, Andrew said dryly, "We're going to be quite busy this year talking to a lot of strange people in foreign countries," Andrew said dryly.
"It feels great," he said of the prospect of more work. "It feels like everything I've been working for is starting to take off and I'll be able to explore the kinds of topics I want to in film."
They said they're mindful of the possibility of being labelled as makers of only spooky projects, but aren't yet
concerned by it. "I don't think that's our lifelong goal - to make supernatural films - but it's a fun place to start," Adam said.
He added regardless of whether the strange phenomena are real or imagined doesn't matter: people are
experiencing them, and whatever the cause, it's worth investigating.
"We'd like to make films that open people's minds to the possibility that it's a genuine experience - this is
something that's real and happening, and people should think about it."
Copyright © 2008 Belleville Intelligencer