Wyeth Clarkson grew up on a steady diet of spaghetti westerns.
Sitting on his father’s knee watching Sergio Leone movies, the son of famed Canadian director Wayne Clarkson always wondered why he never saw a Canadian western.
So he’s made his own.
The Mountie is Clarkson’s answer to that childhood question.
“Canada needs a good western,” he said.
It’s a labour of love that’s taken nine years to complete.
The Mountie is a gritty, violent action adventure, set in the wilds of the 19th-century Yukon.
Filmed on location in the territory, it has its Whitehorse opening today at the Qwanlin Cinema.
It premiered in several Canadian cities on Canada Day.
So far, reviews have been good, but the ticket sales have been even better – especially for an English Canadian film in the summer.
“We’ve just been held over in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver,” said Clarkson. “This is one of the biggest weekends of the year for these theatres.
“We’re taking on the Hollywood blockbusters, and we’re standing tall.”
The Mountie is not the Dudley Do-Right depiction of the North West Mounted Police that audiences may be used to.
That characterization never seemed realistic to Clarkson.
“It never felt true to life for me,” he said. “Just surviving the elements makes you tough let alone that you’re taking on whisky traders, scoundrels, miners and Russians.”
Over the years, Clarkson did a lot of research into the history of the Mounties, and that’s what brought him to the Yukon.
“I was reading a lot about the North West Mounted Police and their long march west,” he said. “Tongue firmly planted in cheek I started my own long march west.”
He hopped in his car and drove from his Toronto home to Whitehorse.
When he crossed the Yukon border and saw the slogan “Larger than Life,” he wasn’t sure it would measure up after seeing so much of the rest of the country.
But he was wrong.
“It totally delivered,” he said. “The rivers are big, the mountains are big – everything is just bigger than I imagined it to be.”
After seeing the territory he knew he had to make the film here.
There was some pressure to make it in Ontario or Alberta for monetary reasons, but Clarkson stuck to his vision.
“I just came to believe that if this story is going to be done justice it had to be made in the Yukon with Yukoners,” he said.
Clarkson tapped a lot of local talent for the production.
One of those was Zvonko Jovanovic, who plays one of the Russian villains
“I loved it, I had a great time,” said Jovanovic.
It was the first time he had acted since Grade 3, he said.
It’s even led to other acting gigs.
After playing one of the evil Russians in The Mountie, Jovanovic landed a part in a children’s series playing a more likable, but still Russian, sea captain.
Jovanovic doesn’t plan on giving up his day job, but acting might be something he’ll do in the future.
His son is starting at the Vancouver Film School in the fall to pursue a career as a television writer.
“If he gets his career off the ground, he can write a role for Dad when I retire,” he joked. “There still going to need cantankerous old guys on shows too.”
A lot of the production team was sourced from the territory as well.
“The reason this film got made in the end was because of the talent and quality of the local crew people,” said Yukon-based co-producer Michael Vernon.
“I had this really fabulous team,” he said.
With the production literally in the middle of nowhere, Clarkson didn’t make it easy on himself or the crew.
The location he chose was a 30-minute hike beyond the end of the Annie Lake Road.
“Satellite phones didn’t even work where we were,” said Clarkson.
That isolation not only helped the crew come together, but it also helped make the film better, he said.
“I have this philosophy that all good movies have to come from difficult situations. Whenever you hear about great cinema throughout history, it’s always about how hard it was to make, but how awesome the movie was,” said Clarkson. “Every day when I had a challenge, I was like, ‘This is just going to make the movie better.’
With ticket sales strong in Canada, Lionsgate has picked up the film for distribution south of the border.
“This movie seems to be taking on a life of its own,” said Clarkson. “Who knows maybe we’ll have to think about making another one.”
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