Wed, Mar 01, 2006 - Page 13 News List

K Country takes the spotlight

By Roly Smith  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

One of the most abiding features of Ang Lee's (李安) triumphant and moving film, Brokeback Mountain, is its backdrop of superb Rocky Mountain scenery. Although Annie Proulx's original story, first published in the New Yorker in 1997, was set in Wyoming and Montana, most of the film was shot in the Canadian Rockies, in Alberta's unheralded Kananaskis Country (known locally as K Country).

The booming oil city of Calgary, famous for its annual stampede, is where the crew stayed during the making of the film two years ago and it gets a special mention in the film credits. As does the Calgary Gay Rodeo Association, which advised and consulted on the rodeo sequences featuring Jake Gyllenhaal as the rough-rider Jack Twist. Members of the group appear in several sequences.

"We are the only gay rodeo association in Canada," said member Tim Cyr, "but it's part of a huge circuit throughout the US. We have the best turn out on the circuit, and to be a part of it is a great feeling."

This year's 10-day Calgary Stampede takes place July 7 to July 16 in Stampede Park. Originally established as an agricultural fair in 1886, the modern event starts with a grand parade through the city streets and features a wide range of events, the most famous of which are probably the chuckwagon race, and the bull riding and calf roping events, which both feature so strongly in Brokeback Mountain.

Ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots are, needless to say, de rigueur for the Stampede.

But it is Kananaskis Country -- a favorite place for Calgarians wanting to avoid overcrowded Banff and Lake Louise -- which is the setting for the beautiful outdoor scenes which make up most of the movie. The changeable Rockies weather was apparently a problem during the filming and I've known days which have started with drizzling rain turning to stinging sleet and snow and ending up in warm sunshine.

Ang Lee, who won an Oscar with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, said of the Canadian Rockies locations: "You realize when you place the camera that you have to tilt it up a little bit; the sky is so grand. It's not only the big landscape, but the big sky."

Randy Quaid, the seasoned US actor who plays the taciturn Joe Aguirre, who employs Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist as sheep herders, was particularly impressed by the locations on what was his first visit to this part of Canada. "I loved the mountains, and even the wind. It's gorgeous big sky country," he said.

Most of the riverside camping sequences in Brokeback Mountain were shot in K Country, near the former coal mining and now mountaineering and skiing center of Canmore, to the west of Calgary.

Highway 40 -- the Kananaskis Trail -- to the east of Canmore will take you into the heart of the mountains to the tranquil Kananaskis Lakes and past many scenes recognizable from the movie.

There's one shot in the film when Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) is returning for his annual assignation with Ennis (Heath Ledger) on Brokeback Mountain where his pick-up swings round into the mountains at a turn-off into the Peter Lougheed regional park.

Other shots were used from around the shores of the Kananaskis Lakes in Lougheed park, which are completely surrounded by snow-covered peaks with such formidable names as Indefatigable, Invincible and Inflexible. As was the tradition in the days of Empire, these mountains were named after British Navy warships which took part in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Others in the Upper Kananaskis Lake area, which also feature in the film, take the names of French Commanders from the first world war -- Foch, Joffre and Sarrail.

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