A movie production team was denied permission to shoot in the Rocky Mountain national parks after Parks Canada staff learned the film's plot involved a First Nations gang leader.
"They expressed a real concern that this was not something they would favour," said Mark Voyce, location manager for a film project that had been scheduled to start shooting later this month.
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Voyce is working for Michael Shamberg, a film producer whose past credits include movies such as Erin Brockovich, A Fish Called Wanda, Garden State, Gattaca and Get Shorty.
Shamberg is currently working on a project called Hard Powder, a crime drama ostensibly set in a Colorado ski town.
Action star Liam Neeson is to play an honest snowplow driver whose son is murdered by a local drug kingpin. He then seeks to dismantle the cartel, but his efforts spark a turf war involving a First Nations gang boss, played by First Nations actor, musician and Order of Canada member Tom Jackson.
Director Hans Petter Moland had hoped to shoot scenes in Banff, the Lake Louise townsite and ski hill, and the Columbia Icefields.
"He was enamoured of the beauty of the Columbia Icefields," Voyce said. "He was very stubborn in insisting that if we were going to come here, that it was to shoot parts of these films in the national park."
Voyce, who has previously organized movie shoots in national parks from Newfoundland's Gros Morne to Pacific Rim on Vancouver Island, said the team began the application process with Parks Canada in December. He said he believed that by last week, only a few details needed to be cleaned up and that permissions would be granted.
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Then, late last week, came a phone call.
"They phoned and asked, 'Is the leader of the rival gang in this picture First Nations?' We said yes. That became an obvious last nail in the coffin for us.
"They didn't want to offend anybody. They (said they) would get back to us, but they had grave concerns over subject matter. They told us that in almost exactly those words."
On Monday, Voyce received a letter from Parks Canada listing eight requirements, including the possible need for an environmental assessment.
"We're looking to start filming on March 20 and can't really push our schedule," he said. "That, frankly, is a death blow for us."
Voyce said much of the information requested was included in the original application.
Parks Canada concerned about script
In an email, Parks Canada confirmed it has concerns over the script.
"The Government of Canada is committed to reconciliation and nation-to-nation relationships with indigenous peoples, based on a recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership," said the response from spokesperson Meaghan Bradley.
"In addition to some administrative details and outstanding documentation, Parks Canada's commitment to reconciliation and respect for indigenous peoples was an important factor in the agency's final decision on this matter. Parks Canada maintains the right to refuse applications that are not in line with Parks Canada's mandate or operational priorities."
Such decisions are made locally by staff at the parks where the request is made, said Bradley.
Jackson sends letter of support
The decision was made despite a letter of support from Jackson.
"As a consultant to this production, I have taken a strong stance to ensure that the humility and integrity of First Nation roles do not cross the line of disrespect to my culture. I don't feel my culture is insulted even slightly by the script," he wrote.
"'Hard Powder' will be made regardless. The question is whether we deprive our own, or do we harvest for our own?"
Parks Canada receives many film requests every year and says it's not possible to accommodate them all. The mountain parks have a long history with movie and TV production, running from 1954's Marilyn Monroe-Robert Mitchum film River of No Return to scenes this year filmed for the popular series Game of Thrones.