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Safe Passage

In 2019 an enormous rock slide devastated the summer's salmon run on the Fraser River in British Columbia, Canada. In 2020, during the global pandemic, a massive effort was underway to change that. SAFE PASSAGE explores the importance of wild salmon and offers an in-depth look at the efforts taking place to ensure that this historic run survives.

  • Heidi Hanson
    Fighting Opioids Today, Chefs A' Field, Maryland Crab Tradition & Taste
  • Chris Warner
    Chefs A' Field, Fighting Opioids Today, Over Hawaii
  • Heidi Hanson
    Fighting Opioids Today, Chefs A' Field, Maryland Crab Tradition & Taste
  • Heidi Hanson
    Chefs A' Field, Fighting Opioids Today, Over Hawaii
  • Chris Warner
    Chefs A' Field, Fighting Opioids Today, Over Hawaii
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Nature, Science, Extinction
  • Runtime:
    29 minutes 15 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    June 11, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    53,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Canada, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital 35mm 4K
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Heidi Hanson, Chris Warner

Heidi Hanson is a director, producer, writer, and off-line editor from Tacoma, WA and is currently based in Falls Church, VA. In the late 1990’s she partnered with Chris Warner and they have been producing award-winning documentaries and unscripted series ever since. “Safe Passage” put them to the test (at all levels). Producing an international documentary during a global pandemic with the borders closed and filming in extreme locations plagued by rockslides and historic floods, they had to reinvent the rules of field production. Working with Canadian officials, Heidi and Chris formulated a plan to quarantine then guardedly film “Safe Passage.” Everyone involved felt this documentary needed to be made and that time was of the essence, so with the cooperation of the Canadian government, they crossed the boarder on August 1, 2020 and began a 49-day journey from coast to coast in a small borrowed camper.

Over the years Heidi and Chris have focused many of their productions on environmental issues, health and education. Recently their PBS documentary “Fighting Opioids Today” was nominated for an Emmy and their documentary on the Maryland Crab industry’s struggle to survive won an Emmy Award. Currently they are fundraising for a number of productions—of note is “Statues of Change” which examines the changing iconography of monuments today. From BLM to underrepresentation of women, LGBTQ, and minorities, the documentary explores how the physical embodiments of statues have influenced current movements and asks the question of what's next. Overall, their productions are rooted in authentic, passionate, non-traditional voices that are working to change the world.

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Director Statement

From the start, this was a very surreal production. The Covid-19 pandemic was turning everybody’s world upside down. A year of work was cancelled. Funders disappeared. Clients shuttered. What the future held was entirely unknown. The one thing I did know was that the opportunity to tell the story of Safe Passage was only going to happen once and I needed to figure out a way to film this documentary during a raging pandemic that had closed borders and isolated our subjects.

Raised in the Pacific Northwest, I knew the importance of telling the story of how these salmon may go extinct right before our eyes. I understood how the fish and the rivers are inexplicably linked to the culture, people and land. I knew that despite all odds, we needed to figure out a way to document and tell this once in a lifetime story - however it may evolve.

In a feat of pure persistence, the Canadian border patrol granted myself and my DP a special permit to cross the border and quarantine as we drove across Canada (from Northern Virginia to British Columbia). We needed to isolate and our final locations were so remote that no hotels, no towns, no roads existed. We borrowed a small 18’ camper, leased a truck, loaded our gear and in two days we set out to make our way across Canada. Our crossing was the first allowed for a film crew during the pandemic. Learning the camper life as we went, the story before us was uncertain at best. What kind of access would our subjects allow during Covid? Would we make it in time for the fish to arrive? Was this even possible? Would Covid quash our plans or make us sick?

Along the shores of the mighty Fraser River, the landscape is rugged, wild, remote at best. Beset with near daily obstacles that included flat tires, collapsing roads, rock falls, extreme waters and heat, we nonetheless persisted, each of us in the two person crew donning the duties of what usually would be many. The story was ever evolving, changing by the day. Pivoting. This was about getting the stories that mattered, the stories that you could under the circumstances, the stories that would transport viewers to this place and reiterate the importance of the salmon’s survival.

Covid was always on the forefront. Arriving to interview local tribal members, we were greeted by armed guards charged with keeping outsiders at bay during the pandemic. Nonetheless, these tribes knew the importance of telling their story, risking their health to ensure it was so. Rockslides, Covid concerns and government red tape were a daily challenge. Everything in this region is hours away. Our two person crew drove hundreds of miles off-road to film the people and places of this spectacular region.

The struggles of First Nation’s are akin to the struggles that the salmon face as they return to spawn. The resilience of these two characters taught us to be resilient, creative and persistent. In the end, we were denied some key access due to safety concerns and Covid-19 protocol. Nonetheless, the personal stories of connection and reverence for saving the salmon proved to be a more poignant story than we could ever have imagined or planned for. Meeting so many passionate people committed to Fraser River salmon (during a global shutdown) only reiterates the salmon’s importance and the need to preserve nature as well as culture.