Following Monday’s announcement that Dead North is pressing pause on their annual film festival, founders Jay Bulckaert and Pablo Saravanja say it’s time to re-focus their energies in a new studio, Hyper Borea.

Saravanja recalls Dead North’s beginnings almost a decade ago, when Bulckaert approached him to create a festival showcasing Northern filmmaking – something that, at that time, was minimal. Now, the pair says, there is an established culture of multimedia production in the North and the next step is to help those filmmakers see profits.

Pablo Saravanja, left, and Jay Bulckaert, right, are pressing pause on the Dead North film festival to re-focus their efforts on new endeavour Hyper Borea Creative Studios. NNSL file photo

In its first year, four teams submitted Dead North films. Since then, 220 films have been made in what has become a globally recognized festival. 

As many of the production teams submit films year after year, “these people are not emerging filmmakers anymore,” Bulckaert says. “These people are semi-pro.”

As a result he says “tons of community has been built, lots of experience has been gained, and now we have a thriving media arts community here.” 

Enter Hyper Borea Creative Studios. 

Now that the appetite and the skill set exists for a filmmaking industry, Bulckaert and Saravanja want to help Northern filmmakers tap into the billion-dollar industry by helping to create jobs and improve the quality of production in the circumpolar region. 

Bulckaert says most Dead North filmmakers created their movie and “once the festival was over, people just went back (to their regular lives).” With Hyper Borea Studio, Bulckaert and Saravanja want to make filmmaking as a career more accessible to people in the North.   

While many may be grieving the immediate loss of Dead North, Bulckaert reassures that for those wondering when Dead North will rise again, “it’s already risen.”

He acknowledges that, “there was an obvious awesomeness to Dead North that is different to this,” but that “everyone can see this as an opportunity to be creating stuff all year long,” as opposed to just annually for the festival. 

Bulckaert and Saravanja say they have been thinking about taking a break from Dead North for a couple of years to re-focus their efforts, but that the idea of having to do a “watered down” version of the festival with Covid restrictions is “really unappealing.”

Dead North was “designed to create a family of filmmakers across the circumpolar region,” Bulckaert says. “This year that would have been different.”

Saravanja explains that the highlight for many is getting all of the filmmakers into a room to screen the movies in front of a packed audience reacting in real time. This year that wouldn’t be possible.

“Dead North was the right idea for the right time,” Saravanja says. “Now we’re at a different time.”

To pull the plug on Dead North for the foreseeable future, Bulckaert says has “felt like a weird breakup.”

“I won’t lie I’ve shed a couple tears,” he says. “It’s been emotional but at no point did I feel it was the wrong move. We’re building upon everything that’s been created with Dead North.”

He says Dead North created opportunities to explore “taboo subjects” and “wild visions.” People have quit their jobs to become filmmakers after working on a Dead North film, Bulckaert explains.

“It has changed people’s lives. Categorically that is a true statement.”

Jay Bulckaert, left, and Pablo Saravanja, right, say that Dead North has created a “thriving” media production scene in the North. NNSL file photo.

Hyper Borea aims to build on that and tackle the prohibitive cost of production, Saravanja says. He says the cost of labour and of travel are two of the biggest expenses with Northern filmmaking. 

One way they are working to overcome those costs is with “virtual production.” The idea is that rather than spending thousands of dollars transporting an entire crew to film in a remote location, the studio can send fewer people for less time to shoot just the background and put it up on a green screen to film the rest in the studio. 

With Hyper Borea, they also want to ramp up post-production capacity so that even creators not using the studio can have access to colouring or sound suites rather than having to go all the way down to Toronto for example, for work that should only take a few hours. 

Bulckaert says the name Hyper Borea is from a Greek myth of “majestic giants that live beyond the Northern winds.” He says to him, local filmmakers are those giants. 

On Dead North’s legacy, Bulckaert emphasizes “this is not the end. This is only the beginning of the next phase.” 

“Dead North has been nothing but a blessing for everyone,” he says. “It’s hard to know how to express the gratitude.” 

Natalie Pressman

Reporting courts and cops and general news, Natalie started with NNSL Media in 2020. Before moving to Yellowknife, Natalie worked as a community radio trainer in Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent First...

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