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New TV series showcases northern Sask. firefighting

Guardians of the North airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday nights on CityTV; holds celebration of premiere episode in Regina.

REGINA - A true-life docuseries focused on efforts to fight wildfires in northern Saskatchewan is set to make its debut on CityTV tonight.

Guardians of the North, a docuseries focusing on wildland firefighters serving Indigenous and remote communities in northern Saskatchewan, has its premiere episode at 10 p.m. Tuesday night on Citytv.

In recognition of the premiere episode, a launch event was held at the Regina Flying Club hangar. 

There, the production celebrated the partnerships between producers Wavelength Entertainment and funding partners Creative Saskatchewan, along with the Saskatchewan agencies involved in the production: Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, Muskoday First Nations Fire Department and Saskatchewan First Nations Emergency Management. 

The stars of the series are the ordinary men and women who work with those agencies in training for and battling wildfires. The series was shot last summer, and will feature prominently the MCCAFE wildfire near Stanley Mission which raged last year. 

The launch event was attended by government officials including Premier Scott Moe and Minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Christine Tell. Premier Moe was excited about the creation of jobs for the film industry in the province, and even more enthused about the show’s focus on the efforts of brave personnel who battle the fires. 

“We are so very fortunate in Saskatchewan that we have these folks standing on guard throughout our northern communities, and I would say right across the province. This series that we will see takes place largely in our province’s North, but it’s really a celebration of the traits that have come to define Saskatchewan proper — courage in the face of danger, self sacrifice, and deep concern and empathy for one's neighbor in your community or neighboring communities,” said Moe.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Guardians of the North is exactly the type of production to see, as our government invests in the film industry through Creative Saskatchewan. “

Because this was a docudrama, these were not actors. These were real firefighting personnel that film crews were tasked with filming, and that posed some challenges of its own.

“At the start you weren't really used to it,” said Avery Legare, one of the SPSA personnel featured in the series.

“But once everybody kind of got used to it, it was just they were in the background. Yeah, you just carried on with your day-to-day routine — you didn't really notice them.”

Legare says people who tune in can expect to see “the dangers of what the crews on the ground face” and “see what goes on behind the scenes.”

Series co-producer Chris Triffo said believes people will be interested in the compelling stories about fighting fires in the north. 

“People can expect nonstop action, right from brand new recruits to veterans that are going to have to step up and fight some of the biggest fires you've ever seen that are hundreds of feet high and thousands of hectares wide, and they're so mean that they they make their own weather. And you're going to be able to see how those pilots and those firefighters beat that fire down to the ground and it's really exciting to watch.” 

The series could have potentially been shot in any province, but Triffo was interested in telling a uniquely Saskatchewan story.

“Well, I'm from Saskatchewan, I've been here my whole life. My ancestors came here and I love highlighting Saskatchewan stories. Our back yard is exciting. We have some of the most beautiful country in the world. We have exciting stories, and this is really an example of that. Being able to tell the story of Northern firefighters and to allow people into that world is really exciting, and I think the rest of the world would want to watch this.”

Another reason he cited was the access and cooperation received from the various agencies.

“We really got unprecedented access to Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency and Saskatchewan First Nations Emergency Management, and that doesn't always happen,” said Triffo. “We got unprecedented access to pilots, to water bombers, to type one firefighters, to helicopter pilots. That's really why we were able to tell such a compelling story is we had unprecedented access.”

The series is another major Saskatchewan project receiving funding from Creative Saskatchewan, which saw its funding pool expanded to $10 million in the 2022 budget and which recently received another top-up of $7.5 million. 

Several productions have been recipients of funding during the past several months, including the action series King of Killers as well as the multicultural comedy TV series Our Big Punjabi Family.

What made this production distinct was its particular focus on real life happenings in Saskatchewan.

“This one's extra special because it's telling a really important Saskatchewan story that many of us don't get the opportunity to see up close.” said Erin Dean, CEO of Creative Saskatchewan. 

“It’s a really thrilling story — these dangerous jobs, people working really hard for the people of Saskatchewan who probably don't get enough recognition, and certainly there's a lack of understanding of the danger that they're putting themselves into. So this show will shine a spotlight on that. And from our perspective, these are really solid producers telling important Saskatchewan stories so it was a no-brainer for us to jump in and support this show.”

For Guardians of the North, Creative Saskatchewan contributed $276,000 to the production. 

Citytv will show the first season of six episodes. and the plan is to pitch the series to streaming services and international broadcasters afterwards. If the series is a hit, the producers are hopeful for a second season and more episodes.

“Our intent is to really sell this around the world,” said Triffo, who is excited about being able to highlight the northern part of the province. He believes people in the northern communities will particularly relate to the subject matter. 

“We really hope that people in northern Saskatchewan will be able to watch this and enjoy it, because a lot of them are their neighbours, a lot of them are friends and family that are actually fighting the fires. And we’re hoping that they enjoy watching themselves as much as we enjoyed making the show.”

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