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Zombies knock 'em dead

DEEP RIVER - This Upper Ottawa Valley town seems a bit far from Hollywood to be hosting a movie premiere, but that is precisely what is happening this weekend.

On Friday afternoon, the Royal Canadian Legion in Deep River hosted the first ever screening of Deep River: The Island, an independent horror movie shot last year on location in the town. The film is being shown four times a day Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 4 p. m., 6 p. m., 8 p. m. and 10 p. m.

Director Ben Bachelder, originally from Elliott Lake, lived in Deep River from 12 to 18 years, before moving to Las Vegas to forge a career in the entertainment industry.

One day his mother, who still lives in Deep River, suggested he do a movie in his former home town. Working closely with his brother-in-law George Stuckert, who would take up writing duties, and a few other acquaintances, Bachelder found he had a film project on his hands.

Deep River: The Island tells the story of six friends who hold a reunion in Deep River, staying overnight on a nearby island. The next day, returning to town for supplies, they are surprised to find it overrun by flesh-eating zombies.

Filmed over two weeks last August, with some 10 days of follow-up shooting in late September, the movie features many familiar sights within the town and along the shoreline, with town residents playing the zombies.

The cast, a 50/50 mix of Canadian and American actors, first met each other while on location, after answering an online casting call.

"Most of the cast and crew hadn't met until they assembled in Deep River," Stuckert said, but by the end of the shoot had become like an extended family.

Three of the cast - Maia Kaufhold, Mark Von Sell and Andrew Nosek - all enjoyed their time filming in Deep River, which included helping with the production, lugging equipment around and other aspects of the project.

It as Kaufhold's first feature film, after doing pilots, short subjects and web series. Originally from Toronto, she now calls Bethany, Ontario her home.

"I really had no clue where Deep River was," she said, but once she got here found it a wonderful place.

"I learned quite a bit about the industry from both sides of the camera, and it was a lot of fun."

Von Sell, who hails from Toledo, Ohio, already knows Bachelder from work they did together in Las Vegas.

"He asked if I wanted to try out for it and I said yes," he said. "And I got the part."

Shooting in Deep River was a great experience, Von Sell said, as so many people were overwhelmingly supportive of their efforts.

"We already had a fan base out there before we even started shooting," he said, and added he hopes this experience will leave good feelings and memories for the town.

Nosek, a Philadelphia native, also enjoyed himself, saying the scenery is fantastic and everyone seemed to genuinely care how he was doing.

"Everyone involved with this was very funny," he said, making filming a great experience.

"If I was going to form a time capsule for the future, I'd put a copy of this film in it."

Bachelder also said it was a lot of fun to be filming in a town he had grown up in, and to be able to give something back to the community.

"It was fantastic to see so many people come up and praise us for giving the kids something to do that summer, even if they ended up rinsing blood out of their clothes," he said, as many tried out to be the zombie extras in the film.

Stuckert said the reason they decided to debut the film in Deep River is their way of thanking everyone for their support during filming.

"Everyone was just great," he said, "Bert Fleury let us shoot inside his store (Fleury's Valu-Mart), and for the flashback scenes, Mackenzie High School let us shoot there," and town officials and police were very helpful in permitting the shoot, including the extensive gun battles.

"At times it sounded like Beirut in 1984," Stuckert said, but no one seemed to mind.

Once they had finished, the filmmakers had some 27 hours of footage to edit into a 90-minute fright flick, which was done in Las Vegas. Besides being shown here, Stuckert said they are hoping to have it screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and are now looking for a distributor.

"There are four parties who are interested," he said, but with no guarantees the film would ever receive wide distribution, it was decided to give residents the opportunity to check it out before the film pssed out of their hands.

After the initial screening, Bachelder said he was pleased with how the film went over with the audience, who seemed to be having a good time.

"It is such a relief it has gone over well," Bachelder said, adding there is already a prequel and a sequel in the works.

He said he loved doing something like this screening as it is so new here, and added perhaps Deep River could look into hosting a film festival one day.

"Let's start that," he said.

Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer reporter

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