Producers of American TV drama Alaska Daily have chosen Dettah to stand in for the US state, with Hilary Swank filming in the community this week.
In the show, which debuts on ABC next month, Swank – star of films like Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby – plays a journalist in Anchorage working on cases involving missing Indigenous women.
That helps to explain why residents found US and Alaskan flags flying from buildings in Dettah on Thursday, the first of two days of filming.
A truck marked “Meade Police” and other signs strongly suggest Dettah is posing as an Alaskan village named Meade in the show, the first episode of which airs in the US on October 6. The show is reportedly set to air on Disney+ internationally.
“We were kind-of trying to keep things quiet,” said Kieron Testart, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation’s economic development manager, acknowledging the futility of that attempt given the community’s makeover.
“Everything came together quickly, through the support of the NWT Film Commission and local filmmakers in the NWT who helped scout the location,” Testart added, noting Dettah had been part of a tour for filmmakers a couple of years ago.
“Dettah is a great location. You can re-dress it as any kind of northern small community,” he said.
“It’s a great place to come because we have Yellowknife behind us with hotels, infrastructure, vehicles and catering. So it’s kind-of the best of both worlds. We’re really excited about this opportunity and to see more productions come to Dettah.”
‘This is the real thing’
Nancy Shaw, the NWT’s film commissioner, said the arrival of Alaska Daily’s crew in the Yellowknife area was “super cool.”
“We have so much of the documentary and adventure-survival or reality kinds of factual content,” Shaw told Cabin Radio.
“This is what we call service production: a big show comes in and the place isn’t necessarily playing itself. This isn’t about northern Canada or Yellowknife, it’s pretending to be somewhere else and it’s going to be on real network TV.
“This is kind-of the real deal, the real thing. It’s really exciting.”
Advertisements posted by the NWT Professional Media Association have sought local set decorators and production assistants to work on the show, promising rates such as $320 per day. Extras have been hired to appear in the background of shots.
“This is also the kind of production that creates a lot of jobs,” said Shaw.
“If you lived in Vancouver and worked in the film industry, you’d pick up shows like this to work on. It’s very rare for these shows to come to us.
“I’m hoping this production spreads the word. This is how you get jobs in the real film industry – people meet you and they like working with you. This could snowball into something really interesting.”
It’s one thing to bring a production to the North, said Testart, but adding the likes of Swank to the bill elevates Alaska Daily’s presence in Dettah.
“This is really exceptional because we have major Hollywood talent here,” he said.
“Our chief got to meet them and the staff got to meet them as well. It’s a great day to feel that glow of celebrity gracing the community – and they’ve been very considerate of the community.”
And when we see the finished product, will Dettah be a convincing substitute for Alaska?
“A lot of southerners don’t really know the North,” said Testart, laughing. “So you can fool them, right?”
Megan Miskiman, Caitrin Pilkington, Sarah Pruys and, like, half of Yellowknife contributed reporting.