Keith on a remote shoot outside Dawson City, Yukon.

Keith on a remote shoot outside Dawson City, Yukon.

Dry Cold Media is a sole-proprietorship owned by Keith MacNeill of Yellowknife. Dry Cold is just the latest adventure in a life filled with media and production experience.

I remember being a little kid, playing in this cool room at my mother’s office. It had carpet on the walls, and it always sounded like something was about to happen. There was a window to another room that had tape recorders, and headphones, and buttons and dials and things. I didn’t figure out until years later that I was playing in a radio production studio.

He may not have known what that room on Jarvis Street in Toronto was used for. But the smells and sounds of broadcasting were in Keith’s blood from the earliest days. So it was a natural fit ten years or so later, when he got his first broadcasting job, far from Toronto, as host of a CBC youth radio program in Frobisher Bay (now called Iqaluit). With just a few gaps for minor little endeavors like university, getting married, and starting a family, he’s been working in northern broadcast journalism ever since.

In 1980, Keith became the first studio manager at the fledgling Inuit Broadcasting Corporation’s headquarters in Frobisher Bay. In 1987 he returned to CBC North in Ottawa, where Canada’s first Inuktitut TV show Tarqravut was produced. 18 months later he moved to Yellowknife to found the first weekly TV show in the Dene languages. Two years after that he was named Executive Producer of CBC North’s flagship current affairs show, Focus North.

A bowhead whale emerges during a shoot in Foxe Basin near Igloolik, Nunavut.

Over the next 20 years Keith produced many current affairs documentary stories and programs for CBC. He was part of the producer team on network news specials, elections, music and variety programs, and sports programs. He was also writer, director and producer of many documentaries for northern shows like Focus North, Northbeat, Aqsarniit and Igalaaq. Many of those stories reached the national audience when shown on programs like Man Alive, Sports Saturday, and The National. And many  won peer recognition at events like the Yorkton Film Festival, the CBC Anik Awards, the B’nai Brith Media Human Rights Awards, the Columbus Film Festival, and the Gemini Awards.

But over time, there were fewer opportunities to participate in major television projects. Bigger stories were done more often by Toronto, bypassing northern producers. Travel budgets were reduced, and the appetite for long-form current affairs dwindled.

In 2005 Keith took on production of Igalaaq, the daily Inuktitut TV news show that has the most impressive market share of any CBC News program. But while Keith loved having a guiding hand in the Inuit world’s daily record, there were few opportunities to stretch creatively.

So after a great deal of soul-searching, in April 2008 Keith left the CBC to pursue creative opportunities in the freelance arena. Since then he has brought his talent and know-how to projects for the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network, Yellowknife Films, Omni Television and northern performances at the Vancouver Olympics.

A “lifer” in the north, Keith and his wife Diane have raised their family in Yellowknife, and have no plans to leave. Their adult children consider Yellowknife home. Keith also currently serves on the Board of Folk on the Rocks, the north’s premier music festival, which marked its 30th anniversary last year.

Igloolik elder Rachel Uyuraqsuk was interviewed for a story for Man Alive.

Keith sees the north as a land of extremes and challenges. Not only an extreme geography and climate, but a frontier of social, political, and cultural development as well. Where northern communities and families face huge challenges, they’re created innovative solutions. Those challenges and solutions form the lives of kids and elders, businesses and families, scientists and hunters, workers and leaders.

Drawing inspiration from those lives, Keith tells their stories evocatively and respectfully. Children who can’t chat with their grandparents. Southern anglos who move to the bush. The struggle to transform a vanishing tradition into viable economy. The conflict between economic progress and preservation of the environments.

  Keith believes in getting out of the studio and into the field, in pursuit of the best and most interesting stories.

It’s always been my belief that the magic of those lives, and those unique people, is best told in documentary stories. Real pictures, real sounds, real people sharing their hopes and fears and insights. THAT is what truly brings us into their lives… and becomes a starting point for us to truly learn something important and real. Which is what I think documentary film should do.