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Nunavut sealift documentary series begins Sunday

Almost five years ago, Kelvin Redvers – a Vancouver-based filmmaker originally from Hay River, pitched the idea for a documentary television series which has become High Arctic Haulers, a new show on CBC.
Photo by Rhonda Dent Photography / courtesy of Kelvin Redvers

A documentary series – which began as an idea by a filmmaker originally from Hay River – is about to hit television screens across Canada.

That idea by Kelvin Redvers has become High Arctic Haulers, which follows the annual summer sealift to Nunavut and its impact on the communities it serves.

“I actually pitched the original idea for the show,” said Redvers, who now lives in Vancouver but visits Hay River two or three times every year.

The pitch was nearly five years ago when he proposed the idea to the Vancouver production company Great Pacific Media, which brought him on to work with a creative team to develop the concept.

“I was working on it from the very beginning in terms of development,” Redvers noted, adding that included travelling to some communities to film initial footage to show what the series would look like.

“It takes a while in TV development sometimes for things to happen,” he said. “And then it finally got picked up by CBC.”

High Arctic Haulers premieres on Jan. 5 at 8 p.m. on CBC and the free CBC Gem streaming service.

The first season consists of seven one-hour episodes.

Redvers explained High Arctic Haulers is called a documentary series because there are a lot of shows that use the term reality, but are fairly fabricated.

“Whereas we use ‘documentary series’ because it truly is documentary,” he said. “We’re simply following the story, following the lives, and we’re not embellishing or we’re not putting our own perspectives on what’s happening to try to change the narrative.”

Redvers noted there is a history of filmmakers and TV shows coming up to the North to tell stories, but they aren’t always accurate to the North that he has always known.

“I knew about the ship company that delivers up North and I felt that this was a really great avenue with which you could tell northern stories where it could be captivating without needing to do anything fictional,” he said.

Redvers – who is a consultant on High Arctic Haulers and directed parts of several episodes – said it is an opportunity to do authentic documentary stories of the North.

“It also gave an opportunity to tell positive stories of the North. I feel that a lot of time when you see news articles or whatever in the south talking about the North they’re negative,” he said, adding that the North is full of entrepreneurs and inspirational stories.

Each summer, five cargo ships from Desgagnés Transarctik Inc. leave Montreal with thousands of tonnes of supplies, and battle the elements and unpredictable ice to complete their mission.

In the first season of High Arctic Haulers, the sealift will carry construction materials to replace a school that burned down, a taxicab for Igloolik and new equipment for a fish plant, plus toys and tons of groceries.

Each cargo ship in the fleet is self-sufficient – complete with tugs, barges, cranes and loaders to land and deliver on remote shorelines.

The stories are predominantly about communities in Nunavut, and occasionally the Nunavik region of northern Quebec.

High Arctic Haulers has been a major endeavour for Redvers.

“This is the biggest thing I’ve worked on, for sure,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting because it’s going to be airing primetime on Sunday nights on CBC, which is a really tremendous time slot and a huge potential viewership across Canada in a lot of places where people know very little a lot of the time about the North and the Arctic, aside from news articles. So we get a really fantastic glimpse into the North for southerners.”

Redvers noted that High Arctic Haulers involved a large team of dozens of people.

“I think at one point we had 25 different crew members across five different communities, as well as ships, all working on stories,” he said. “So it ended up being a pretty big operation.”

The 32-year-old member of Deninu Ku’e First Nation is an award-winning writer, producer and film director.

At the age of 15, he started a video production company while attending high school in Hay River. The short films he made during high school went on to win awards at festivals in Canada and around the world.

After graduating high school, he majored in film production at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

Redvers received his first nationwide broadcast credit at the age of 21 for his documentary short The Making of a Haida Totem Pole on the television channel Bravo! In 2010, shortly after graduating university, he was hired as a producer on CTV BC’s First Story, an Indigenous current affairs documentary series based in Vancouver.

In 2016, Redvers and his sister Tunchai Redvers also co-founded We Matter, a national campaign supporting Indigenous youth with mental health issues. The video and multimedia campaign has garnered thousands of followers and millions of views online.

“A lot of the stories that I directed for High Arctic Haulers, stories I researched and got on the show, are about Indigenous young people doing exciting things,” he said, noting one of his favourite stories is about a 13-year-old Inuit boy who’s revitalizing dog sledding in the community of Naujaat (formerly Repulse Bay).

Redvers – in conjunction with Great Pacific Media and its parent company Thunderbird Entertainment – is now working on the second draft of a screenplay for a feature film thriller.