Canada's Arctic set for Discovery


DAWSON CITY, Yukon -- Discovery Channel has left Yukon producer Arthur "Tookie" Mercredi out in the cold. The independent producer's latest project is a $1.3 million six-part, participatory documentary series about the world's coldest jobs.

A former Canadian Broadcasting Corp. cameraman who gathered footage across Canada's Arctic, Mercredi has had 25 years to contemplate what it's like working with the mercury well below zero.

"You can't hurry (when you're filming in the cold) because you will inevitably break something because things are so brittle," he says.

Mercredi's crew is in Dawson City following two pilots using frozen ice fields as their runways.

The second episode, "Ice Pilots," is being shot against the backdrop of the grueling 1,000-mile Yukon Quest, the dog-sled race held each February that runs between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska. The race follows the historic Gold Rush trail over frozen rivers and four mountain ranges in temperatures that this year hit minus 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The ice pilots are dropping off supplies for the dog mushers and taking out injured dogs.

"Bush pilots are definitely characters, and when you marry that with being this far north -- which attracts eccentrics in every field -- you're getting a double dose of it. They are a treat to hang around," says series host Barry Kennedy, an ex-Air Force pilot, comedian and writer who is the son of Canadian acting icon Gordon Pinsent.

The crew is in the territorial capital of Whitehorse this month to profile Frank Turner, who has participated in every Quest but one since 1984.

"Dog racing is not a job for those who don't like the cold," says Turner, the 1995 Quest winner who withdrew from this year's race in Dawson because his lead dog was injured.

Other segments cover the maker of an ice hotel, cold-weather car testers, buffalo biologists and iceberg cowboys, or men who spear icebergs to sell chunks to the Japanese.

The series is produced by Mercredi and Anne Pick of Toronto-based Real to Reel Prods. with funding from Discovery and the Yukon Film and Sound Commission. Mike Boland is director of photography, and Herrie ten Cate is the director and writer. It will be delivered in July for broadcast in November.

Mercredi's production is just one of several currently rolling in the Yukon. The Yukon Film and Sound Commission has changed its slogan from "Need Snow?" to "Need More Than Snow?" as it moves forward on its goal of attracting more productions.

The territory of 32,000 people spread over 300,000 square miles has development and production funds, training dollars, marketing money and foreign location tax credits.

Yukon interim film commissioner Barbara Dunlop notes, "We have great wilderness locations. There is a freshness to the Yukon that you can really appreciate and 24 hours of daylight in the summer."

That's no snow job.