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Fort Calgary adding historical, social context to western movies shot in the area

A local national historic site plans to challenge Western movie stereotypes right in time for the Calgary Stampede. 

Starting July 7, 2023, Fort Calgary will offer a new community event called Films at the Fort: Shot in Alberta. This event will feature a series of Western-themed movies that were filmed in Alberta. What makes these screenings different than an ordinary movie experience is the conversations with subject experts that will be held before each movie screening. 

Films at the Fort: Shot in Alberta starts July 7, 2023 featuring The Revenant. CONTRIBUTED.

Holly Craven, Fort Calgary Arts and Culture Experience Manager said that choosing to showcase western-themed movies was intentional. 

“[In] classic Western [films], often there’s a lot of stereotypes…and we sort of wanted to explore that a little bit and give people the chance to think a little more critically about what they’re seeing on screen,” said Craven. 

Craven said that traditionally, western films have been known to produce many stereotypes, specifically among marginalized communities. However, the hope of showing these movies with critical discussion is to expand the audience’s understanding and viewpoint of that time in history. 

Films at the Fort: Shot in Alberta launches on the same day as the Calgary Stampede, hoping to offer attendees a break from Stampede activities when they need one.

“To get people thinking a little more critically about the classic western theme that we all kind of jump on in Calgary during this time, it can be a lot of fun, but we have to remember that it’s a very complex and complicated history that our city has,” said Craven. 

Screening movies with historical context

The theatre at Fort Calgary has consistently been used for programming and venue rentals, however, this series of movie screenings will be the first time in recent memory that it has been used to screen commercial films. 

The first movie to be screened for Films at the Fort is The Revenant. Don Hanna, local historian and archeologist will host a discussion before the film about Man in the Wilderness, the film The Revenant is based on, the real Hugh Glass and his connection to southern Alberta, the differences between the American and Canadian fur trade and the significance of Peter Fidler, a Canadian explorer.  

“What I’m hoping to do is to contextualize that time period, and what was going on in the rest of the world, so that they can perhaps judge the film a little bit more closely and understand what the characters are going through a little bit more closely,” said Hanna. 

Hanna said that The Revenant, while a successful movie, is not without its controversies, racial slurs and stereotypes. For this reason, Hanna finds it important to present additional context to the time the film was based in to help audiences better understand the movie. 

“I want people to be able to look at the film with perhaps a little more educated eyes; eyes that look at not just the story, but also the surroundings of the story,” said Hanna. 

On July 28, 2023, Brokeback Mountain will be screened with discussions by Steve Gin, Calgary-based writer and arts educator. Gin will help attendees analyze the film through a critical lens and reflect on why it has resonated with audiences. 

Gin has a distinct connection to Brokeback Mountain, the first reason is because of the role he played in the movie and the second reason is because of the profound impact he found it to have for gay men, especially for a movie of its time. 

“I think because there’s just been such a profound sense of displacement for so many gay men in their rural settings or their sense of landscape, so many of us had to migrate to cities and I think we all feel a little bit lost and so much about Brokeback Mountain is about Jack and Ennis’s relationship to the land,” said Gin. 

Gin followed up by saying that the importance of this film is particularly relevant with the escalation of backlash towards LGTBQIA2S+ communities in Canada. Gin explained how Jack and Ennis couldn’t move past the customs of their time period, which evidently led to internal conflicts. For this reason, Gin finds the screening of Brokeback Mountain to be pertinent. 

On Aug. 12, Unforgiven will be screened and on Aug. 26, Prey will be screened, speakers for both films are still to be determined. 

Tickets for each screening are $15 and include popcorn and after-hours admission to Fort Calgary. Concession drinks and candy are also available for purchase.