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Playback Feature: 'PUSH'

Updated: May 14

CBC creates fully accessible production with latest docuseries BY CHRISTOPHER GULY 1 day ago

Fenix Film & Television, Small Army Entertainment and CBC discuss how the groundbreaking series Push came together with key creatives from the disability community.

Having full representation and accessibility both in front of and behind the camera was the key to bringing CBC’s groundbreaking new original series Push to fruition. The 8 x 30-minute Canadian series is produced by Fenix Film & Television and Small Army Entertainment in partnership with CBC. It follows a diverse group of wheelchair users, known as the “Wheelie Peeps,” as they navigate life and love through one exploring the dating scene; another, a quadriplegic woman, giving birth; another woman planning a sex-positions video for wheelchair users on YouTube; and the broad challenges of accessing needed essentials, such as catheters. Billed as a first for a major Canadian network in a primetime slot, the series involved people with disabilities behind the scenes, too. Among them: lead story producer, Michelle Asgarali, creator and producer of AMI-tv docuseries, Breaking Character; director Meagan McAteer, and accessibility coordinator Carly Neis, for both cast and crew. “The thing that clinched it for us was how committed the producers were to hiring key creatives from the disability community and creating a fully accessible production,” Jennifer Dettman, executive director of unscripted content at CBC, tells Playback Daily. “We wouldn’t have done it otherwise.” The Peeps are led by Benveet (Bean) Gill, a barrier-breaking advocate for persons with disabilities who also serves as consulting producer. The series was shot almost entirely in Edmonton (with the exception of Las Vegas where Bean – as she is known on Push – returned for her 10th “rebirthday”) from July to November 2022. Edmonton producer Kaitlan Stewart tells Playback she first noticed Bean in a “Top 40 Under 40” profile feature in Edmonton magazine, Avenue. The article chronicled her determination to move beyond losing the use of her legs after contracting a virus in Las Vegas in 2012 to helping establish ReYu in 2019, Edmonton’s first paralysis-recovery centre, for which she serves as executive director. Stewart, an executive producer on the series and founder of Fenix Film & Television, contacted Bean and met her for coffee after seeing the feature. “She told me what it was like to be a person with a disability, and I had chills a million times over in our conversation. I left knowing there was something there.” Stewart approached fellow filmmaker Sean De Vries, owner and executive producer at Vancouver-based Small Army Entertainment, with the idea of partnering up to bring Bean’s life to TV and pitched CBC with the idea of an unscripted series focused on her Wheelie Peeps, whom Stewart thought “were made for TV.” Bean, who appeared in the first season of the CBC documentary series You Can’t Ask That, “had always stuck with us from that series, so we were excited to see more,” says Dettman. CBC then provided development funding for a 12-minute demo video featuring the main players before the project was greenlit last spring. “As soon as we saw that tape, we knew we had something special,” says Dettman, describing the demo as “completely captivating and entertaining.” “Not only was each person someone you just wanted to get to know more, but there was also a diversity of experiences and perspectives all connected together through a deep friendship.” The series was made with the financial participation of the Canada Media Fund, the Government of Alberta and the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit. CBC declined to disclose the development and production budgets. Stewart says she and De Vries, who also serves as executive producer of Push, were aware of “sensitivities” surrounding the series and therefore there are minimal references to “origin stories” of how participants ended up in wheelchairs, save for a few exceptions, such as Bean’s return to Vegas. As Dettman explains: “This isn’t a series about disability issues and it also isn’t a series that focuses on people overcoming disabilities to make audiences feel inspired.” “This is a series about a group of best friends who use wheelchairs and are trying to do what we are all trying to do – live their best lives,” she says, adding the goal was to “capture all of the stuff of life – the joy and the heartache – while this group of friends try to follow their dreams.” Push premiered on Feb. 24 and also streams on CBC Gem. Its main focus, says Dettman, is “the human story.” It’s about “genuinely regular people doing regular things in life,” adds Stewart, who says that she and De Vries are in discussions with CBC about a second season, along with distributors for international markets. The goal with Push, says De Vries, was to have viewers “start watching a show about people in wheelchairs and finish watching a show just about people.” Image courtesy of CBC

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