Calgary

Remember Alberta's 'lawnmower man'? His iconic tornado photo cameos in Oscar-nominated film

An iconic photograph of an Alberta man casually mowing his lawn while a tornado swirled behind him is now featured in a major motion picture that was just nominated for eight Academy Awards.

He had a lot to do that evening so a tornado was not going to slow him down, said his wife and photographer

Iconic lawn mowing during tornado photo in movie Vice 4:13

An iconic photograph of an Alberta man casually mowing his lawn while a tornado swirled behind him is now featured in a major motion picture that was just nominated for eight Academy Awards.

The woman who snapped the image says it was an accidental one.

Cecilia Wessels took the photo of her husband Theunis mowing the back lawn of their home in Three Hills, Alta., about 120 kilometres northeast of Calgary, on June 2, 2017.

When she shared it on social media, it took off. It was CBC Calgary's most read story for the entire year.

The photo was featured in the motion picture Vice, which was just nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best picture.

Wessels said her husband had a lot to do that Friday evening, and a tornado was not going to slow him down.

"We are competitive swimmers, so that was the only day we had. I went down for a nap. My daughter woke me up and said, 'Dad doesn't want to come inside, and there is this thing in the sky,'" Wessels told CBC Calgary News at 6.

"I asked him if he knew what was going on, and he said, 'Yes, I am keeping an eye on it.' I wanted to share the perspective of the tornado with my family in South Africa. I took a picture with him and the tornado. The rest is history."

Theunis Wessels mows his lawn at his home in Three Hills, Alta., as a tornado is seen in the background on Friday, June 2, 2017 in this handout photo. (Cecilia Wessels/The Canadian Press)

She says her husband does not take unnecessary risks.

"I trust him a lot. He is a level-headed man. At that moment, most of our neighbours were on their back porches taking pictures of the tornado."

Wessels said the tornado appeared to be moving away from them.

"It was a pretty peaceful time. There were no signs of imminent danger," she said.

The people behind the movie Vice saw the picture and wanted it.

"Last year, the company contacted me on Twitter and asked me if they could use my picture in a movie that features Christian Bale, produced by Brad Pitt. They sent me a contract. We liked what we saw, signed it and boom. It's in the movie Vice."

'They were very generous'

How much did they pay for it?

"They were very generous, thank you for asking," she said with a laugh.

Her photograph — which depicts people staying calm during a storm — is used in the movie to parallel Dick Cheney's cool exterior and skill set as American vice-president during the Sept. 11 attacks.

So her husband mowing the lawn with a tornado in the distance really fit the bill.

"We know what we are doing here in Alberta," Wessels said.


With files from CBC Calgary News at 6

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