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When David Briggs brought Deep Cut Film Festival to North Bay in February 2020, he did so with the intent of “keeping things weird.” As a festival that celebrates all film genres, Deep Cut introduced local audiences to a quirky corner of the Independent Film Industry. The Deep Cut Film Festival is entering its sixth season, and it has become a special event that Briggs has hosted annually. But big changes are on the horizon. So, how did it all get started? How did the event once hosted in Kitchener end up in North Bay? And what is in store for the future of the festival? Well, keep reading because I was lucky enough to have a conversation with David Briggs and get a behind-the-scenes take on all this and more, giving our creative sector a deeper understanding of the Deep Cut Film Festival!
I have always been interested in writing, photography, and filmmaking. And that propelled me along specific courses in life. I went to Nipissing, but I started getting more into film when I moved to Edmonton. At the time, my friend Louis Demers and I began making short films for our band to screen while we were playing shows - cool psychedelic stuff that projected behind us. And then we made our first short film. And it was alright. It wasn’t great. You know, your first movie will always be… somewhat disappointing. It’s more of a learning process. And then, when I moved back to Ontario, I started this site called Indie Film Ontario. This was about interviewing local filmmakers within the region, and it helped me make connections with other like-minded people. After doing that for a while, I really missed being on set and making films, so I started writing Black Forest. That was my first feature. I made a little website for it, made a production company, and got the ball rolling. CBC Sudbury emailed me one day, and they had heard that I was going to be shooting the movie in Sudbury. So, I ended up doing an interview with them. That’s when I realized I really did have to finish the script and make this movie. It was a good incentive. When Black Forest came out, I toured it around Ontario on the Northern Frights Tour. That led to creating the Northern Frights Film Festival. Northern Frights was developed to bring horror to the North, and it was a really underrepresented genre in the area. I was frustrated that Northerners always had to go south to see cool horror flicks. But since I started that festival, a few more horror film fests have been popping up, which is cool. And then, about a year or two later, Northern Frights led to creating the Deep Cut Film Festival. The Deep Cut is a Festival with all genres - for those who aren’t into horror. Long story short, it's always been a one-day fest, and it's always been well attended, and it's done well for the filmmaker scene. Film submissions come in through FilmFreeWave, a website that film Festivals are on so that filmmakers can easily submit their films to the festivals. Every year this site has its 100 best-reviewed festivals, and this is out of close to 10,000 festivals - the market is huge - and Deep Cut Fest, after its first year, was in the 100 top-rated festivals. And Northern Frights also made the list five times. And that’s a big accomplishment. So people like it, and we treat filmmakers really well.
The festival's purpose is to get people involved in film and develop our local film culture. I just love filmmaking and film festivals because there are so many different stories to be told and so many voices to be heard. And I believe that you never know where these expressions will take you. I think a lot of people have a sort of top-down view of culture, and if it's not on Netflix or CBC Radio or some other big source, then it can be discounted. And I also think that a lot of people miss out on seeing these types of things that we show at festivals because it's underground… its niche. How many people will see the little indie film shot in Sudbury or at Canadore’s Digital Cinematography program? They are making cool stuff, but then it just gets lost. So I think the festival has a role in preserving this work and helping it get seen on a big screen, giving us in North Bay a stronger sense of visual culture and how local filmmakers are a part of the cinematic culture in Canada.
The Deep Cut Fest started in Kitchener, and it was held at a great little theatre called the Registry Theatre. It started pretty strong, and it was nice being close to Toronto because a lot of the Toronto filmmakers would come. It was easier for them because the festival was pretty close by. It was a one-day festival. And it carried on that way. There was never this huge evolution. But then I moved it to North Bay, which was the next step in the festival’s growth. And I have a lot of changes planned that are on the horizon. There hasn’t really been an opportunity to have live, in-person festivals in a while, so I figure now is a good time to reimagine them. This will be the last year for Northern Frights, and it will also probably be the last year for the Deep Cut Film Festival as we know it. I want to start fresh in North Bay.
Well, I love North Bay. It is one of the greatest cities I’ve ever lived in. I lived here, and then life, school, and work took me around to different places. I returned here about two years ago. I had two festivals, to begin with; one in Sudbury and one in Kitchener, where I have family and spent a lot of time. But now that I’m in North Bay, I want to focus all my energy on creating a really cool, important film festival here. Because I think people will dig it, and I know North Bay is so supportive of the arts and trying to help cool things get off the ground in the community. I was able to have the first Deep Cut Festival at the W.K.P. Kennedy Gallery. Everyone there was so cool, so welcoming, and really helpful. It was a good show. For the first year in town, it was pretty successful. But I don’t know. It’s almost like it never really started here because of the pandemic and everything. That’s why I want to get rid of the two festivals and merge them into one bigger and better festival. Start fresh and relaunch. And just take all the experiences and things I have learned from Northern Frights and Deep Cut and put all that knowledge into one awesome event.
It's kind of hard when you are making such a significant change because you still have a lot of loose ends to tie up with the old festivals; right now, film submissions are open for the Deep Cut Fest. And it’s also hard for me to change things up because I do love them - Northern Frights is awesome, and it's such a cool name too. But to your question, I want to get the committee going soon, and I want to hopefully announce all these big changes at the next festival, which will ideally be in March. Moving forward I want to have this new festival (whatever it be called) to be three days, make it big, I still want it to be international, but I also want to focus on local films too because that’s really important to me… seeing the work of people from the region and getting them involved, and continuing to bring really unique, really different films to the town, features and shorts. And get like three screening rooms going and just have nonstop films all weekend. It would be so good! So that’s sort of the progression. I think the best days are coming, I really do. And it’s going to happen in the most fantastic city - North Bay.
The first thing is to do it. So many people wait and wait for ideal conditions, they wait for funding, and these things don’t always come when you need them. So, you just have to do it no matter how you accomplish it. That is the important part. That sounds so trite, but it’s the only way because no one is going to make your film for you. Start with a 3-minute film if you have to - do whatever you can manage. And always be mindful of your resources. Find small, accessible locations. Think of what you have available to you and use that. And be open to the people around you and don’t reinforce the hierarchy of a film set - collaboration is key. You know this isn’t Hollywood. The great part of lots of these independent films is that your crew, no matter how small, is there to help you, so listen to them because they will have some good ideas. The hardest part is making it, and the more straightforward part is submitting it to festivals. Whether or not you get into many festivals is a different story. Everyone will experience rejection, and dealing with that is hard but important. And the thing to remember is you will still have a film, and no amount of rejection will ever change that. So get out there, and get those cameras rolling!
After 6 years of film festival programming, Deep Cut is saying so long, but not goodbye as they pursue a new festival in the near future. Gateway Film Festival is set to launch Spring 2023 and feature international film selections with all genres and voices welcomed and celebrated. Film submissions are currently OPEN - Website linked below!