From the impact of 9/11, to the front lines of the opioid crisis in Vancouver and Toronto, and across the bridge to the arson epidemic in Detroit, Florian’s Knights travel to the darkest pits of the human experience. The real traumas of firefighting are exposed in ways never-before-seen.
As the Florian’s Knights full patch motorcycle club, the freedom felt on two wheels is the unifying force that has inspired these firefighters from across North America. Standing behind their bike, they speak truth against the stigma of first responder mental health. Depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Issues that have been swept under the rug for generations. For these Florian’s Knights... The motorcycle is their medicine and vehicle for a changed perspective.
On June 5th, 2018, the entire future of the Florian’s Knights MC faced abolition. Founding member Nick Elmes, an Active Duty Vancouver Firefighter, was photographed posing next to several members of the notorious Outlaw motorcycle gang, The Hells Angels. In a media storm that cost Nick his reputation and job, the greater vision and validity of the Florian’s Knights is challenged and put under international scrutiny.
On the heels of this explosive case, the Florian’s Knights and its remaining members are thrusted into a ride or die face off against the stigmas of “Biker Culture”. Outlaw Gangs, the Sons of Anarchy, and Easy Rider bring a damning image to the public. The Florian’s Knights set themselves on a collision course to grapple with that perception and fight for justice. Experts from around the world, including a groundbreaking study from UCLA, participate alongside the Florian’s Knights in what is the first joint mental health exploration of firefighting and biker culture.
How can these two communities co-exist? Will the answer help reverse decades of stigma?
Can a motorcycle club truly heal?
ABOUT THE FILM
In April of 2018, director Panayioti (Pan) Yannitsos met with Crowbar Pictures founder Shawn Galvao to discuss the Florian’s Knights; a new firefighter motorcycle club making waves across North America. Driving home from that meeting, Pan found himself bumper-to-bumper with retired Vancouver Battalion Chief Rod MacDonald, who was riding his motorcycle, a Florian’s Knights patch on his back. Staring at the patch for several minutes in traffic, the serendipitous event convinced Pan to sign on to direct this film.
Only one month into production, Florian’s Knights founder Nick Elmes was photographed posing with a member of the notorious Outlaw motorcycle club, The Hell’s Angel’s. With the media and city officials misrepresenting the club’s purpose and threatening the jobs of its members, producers Pan and Shawn decided to triple the film’s budget and continue filming to save the reputations of these firefighters.
Over the course of three years, Pan and a core team of only four filmmakers slept in fire halls across North America, often in 24-hour shifts, responding to emergencies in real time. The film crew would become so efficient, that on one particular occasion in Detroit, they arrived before emergency crews at a house fire. The arson squad investigated the production to ensure crew members had no hand in starting the fire because they were on scene so quickly.
For over a century, firefighters in North America have grappled with the harsh reality of post-traumatic stress. In pursuit of making this movie, we were faced with a code of silence engrained in fire departments for generations. I knew that this moratorium on mental health was costing men and women their lives, whether through substance abuse, depression, or suicide. How was I and this production crew of civilians going to expose something no one wanted to talk about for over a century?
We recognized early on that the entry point into this issue was on two wheels. By gaining the trust of firefighter motorcycle clubs across North America, we were welcomed through the gates of the most historic fire departments in the world. There, we documented the day-to-day lives of firefighters in ways never-before-seen. Our film crew was asked to routinely risk their own health and safety whenever the alarm went off. Only by riding in the front seat of trauma, uncensored, were we able to showcase to the audience the cost of saving human life.
Over the course of filming, we faced another stigma, that being the public perception of motorcycle clubs. To some, and especially law enforcement, I risked becoming sympathetic towards MC culture and outlaw motorcycle gangs. But like any of my investigative work, my allegiance is to nothing else but the fact of the matter. Through first-hand testimony and scientific study, we proved that “wind therapy” exists and that a motorcycle is an effective coping strategy for PTSD. In doing so, we have provided an answer to trauma that may help firefighters around the world. My ultimate hope is that this film shows first responders that it’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to admit that they need help.