A Burden lifted Crew relieved as made-in-Manitoba series wraps fourth season despite pandemic restrictions

Joanna Chang has a lot on her mind in the new season of Burden of Truth.

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This article was published 25/01/2021 (862 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Joanna Chang has a lot on her mind in the new season of Burden of Truth.

The crusading lawyer is a new mom with a new relationship, a new law firm and a new case that once again makes her a pariah in the town of Millwood, the small-town setting of the CBC drama, which begins its fourth season Thursday at 8 p.m.

What she doesn’t worry about is COVID-19. She leaves that to the actor who portrays her, Kristin Kreuk, as well as the other actors and crew members on the set of the CBC drama series, which began filming in and around Selkirk and Winnipeg last summer and wound up in December.

“It was a challenge through the fall, especially, with case numbers up so high, so I’m really thrilled we were able to do the series, and I’m really proud of it, despite the challenges of the actual shooting,” Kreuk says.

While there is no pandemic in Millwood, tension caused by COVID-19 was higher on the set throughout its filming in the summer and early fall, with the crew following strict guidelines on mask-use, social distancing and hand-washing while actors followed the same rules except when they were in front of the camera.

Eagle Vision, the Manitoba-based company that produces the series, even hired additional medical personnel to maintain COVID-19 protocols that prevented the deadly coronavirus from sneaking into the set.

The anxiety ramped up in November, when positive tests and COVID-19-related deaths in Manitoba soared. In response, on Nov. 10 the provincial government invoked code-red restrictions, shuttering non-essential businesses and banning public gatherings. The move was initially going to prohibit film and television production.

The ruling would have halted production of Burden of Truth just as shooting of the eight-episode season was heading into the homestretch. Last-minute lobbying by production companies, including Eagle Vision, led to the province allowing productions that were already filming to complete their projects.

Joanna Chang (Kristin Kreuk), left, and Beth (Sarah Power).
SHAUNA TOWNLEY / CBC Joanna Chang (Kristin Kreuk), left, and Beth (Sarah Power).

“Obviously the first priority is that everybody is safe and healthy, and definitely we were so close to being done the show, so we were really hopeful we could make it all work,” Kreuk says. “I’m so happy we did, and it was incredibly safe. It was touch-and-go there for a while.”

Actor Meegwun Fairbrother, who plays Millwood police chief Owen Beckbie, says it was a team effort by producers, cast and crew to buy into the COVID-19 protocols that were established to keep Burden of Truth’s cameras rolling.

“To me, we pulled off a miracle, and I’m sure other productions that were fortunate to keep running, I’m sure they felt like they pulled off a miracle as well,” he says. “I was just glad to be working, and if we had masks on all the time and constantly be washing our hands and sanitizing, that’s fine.

“We were all waiting for every health order. We were on the edge of our seats throughout the whole thing praying and hoping we could get through it. And we did.”

Viewers will be hard-pressed to notice there’s a raging pandemic going on behind the camera when viewing the goings-on in Millwood in Thursday’s season opener. Burden of Truth’s confrontational and melodramatic nature remains, as does the sometimes tricky relationship between Chang and Billy Crawford (Peter Mooney) her legal and romantic partner. The show’s other characters interact physically as they had in previous seasons.

Meegwun Fairbrother plays Millwood police chief Owen Beckbie.
SHAUNA TOWNLEY / CBC Meegwun Fairbrother plays Millwood police chief Owen Beckbie.

Many of the shoots in the opening episode, as in previous episodes, take place outdoors, which would have lessened the risk for the crew shooting the scenes.

During a sequence filmed at Millwood’s Riverside Café — in reality, Selkirk’s Riverside Café — Chang and a client discuss the case at one table while opponents of their cause sit at a corner booth well away. Chang and her client appear more concerned by their intimidating glances than an airborne virus.

Some minor changes were made in shooting, owing to COVID-19, Kreuk says, but the scripts were adaptable, and sometimes that meant a location would be changed or the numbers of actors in a scene were minimized to keep work safer.

“You may notice if you’re watching, no one is really kissing each other, and there isn’t that kind of intimacy between the actors,” she says. “We don’t have a big court set-piece like we do normally every season, where we have a whole bunch of background performers stuffed into a room. We certainly didn’t do that.”

Burden of Truth has been unafraid to delve into another hot-button topic, Aboriginal culture and rights, during its first three seasons and there is more of the same in Season 4. This season’s plot focuses on a mine re-opening in Millwood and the controversy highlights how society’s ongoing demand for natural resources affects Indigenous people and their relationship with the land.


Billy Crawford (Peter Mooney)
SHAUNA TOWNLEY / CBC Billy Crawford (Peter Mooney)

Fairbrother, who is part Ojibwa, has seen Beckbie’s role on the show increase — the Indigenous cop has risen the ranks to Millwood’s police chief — as well as his own duties with the production.

The show’s writers often consulted with him regarding Indigenous issues, and for Season 4, Fairbrother became part of the writing team, an aspect of film and TV he wants to pursue along with his acting career.

“I was challenged this year to step up and grow as an artist and I really had to,” Fairbrother says.

“In order for Indigenous people to be truly seen and heard and listened to, we have to be at the seed of the idea. Acting and representing is great, that’s a big part of the equation, but also having that perspective in the writer’s room… that’s very important and we’re starting to see that more.”


Anwen O’Driscoll plays Taylor Matheson
SHAUNA TOWNLEY / CBC Anwen O’Driscoll plays Taylor Matheson


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Luna Spence (Star Slade), left, and Stevie Nichols (Brynn Godenir).
STEVEN ACKERMAN / CBC Luna Spence (Star Slade), left, and Stevie Nichols (Brynn Godenir).
Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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