Alberta has a savvy film board, which encourages many productions from Hollywood to film in the province; but it also has a strong local culture of literature, theater, and music. A few examples follow.

Film & TV

Due to its spectacular landscapes and obvious cowboy culture, Alberta has been the site of many westerns over the years. The most recent -- and most famous -- is Brokeback Mountain, directed by Ang Lee and starring Jake Gyllenhall and the late Heath Ledger as star-crossed lovers. Though the movie was set in Wyoming and Texas, Alberta was an able stand-in for both; the production was based in Calgary, and was shot in various locations throughout the southern part of the province in 2004, including Kananaskis Provincial Park and the towns of Cowley and Fort Mcleod. (Incidentally, while the movie was in production the NHL's Calgary Flames were in the midst of their Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup finals. Lee, from Hong Kong, became so wrapped up in their playoff march that he became a rabid fan, going to every game; he remains a devoted Flames supporter to this day.)


But Brokeback is hardly the only movie to have been shot in and around the foothills: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, starring Brad Pitt in 2006; Legends of the Fall, a 1994 movie also starring Pitt and Anthony Hopkins; and the Academy-Award winning Unforgiven, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, along with Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman, were all shot here; as was the decidedly more obscure -- but chillingly realistic -- 2000 film The Claim, directed by Brit Michael Winterbottom, about a gold-rush town in the mountains of Northern California. And, just west of Lethbridge, Writing on Stone provincial park provided much of the backdrop for the zany Robin Williams comedy RV.

The iconic landscapes of the badlands, in the province's eastern reaches, have also provided a handy backdrop. Morgan Freeman's shack in Unforgiven was in Horseshoe Canyon, just outside Drumheller, which also provided the backdrop for Shanghai Noon, a western comedy starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. Large chunks of Superman 3 were also shot in the badlands, with Calgary's shiny office towers standing in for Metropolis.

The badlands' arid landscape has also managed to double for faraway locales, like Armenia in Canadian director Atom Egoyan's 2003 film Ararat, about the early 20th century Armenian genocide; nearby hamlet Nacmine provided the saloon that doubled for a Mexican cantina in Dead Bang, a 1989 movie starring Miami Vice star Don Johnson. The region also doubled for the decidedly less-exotic locale of nearby Montana in the 2001 film Knockaround Guys, starring Seth Green and Vin Diesel as the inept sons of Brooklyn mobsters sent to Montana to retrieve a bag of cash. (Naturally, things don't go as planned; fish-out-of-water mayhem ensues.)


Alberta has also been the site of some prominent TV shows, though far fewer; the best known, perhaps, is Stephen Spielberg's epic miniseries Into the West, from 2005.

The best example of Alberta proudly standing in for itself is the 2000 Canadian indie comedy Waydowntown, starring well-known Canadian actor Don McKellar and others, where a group of young Calgary office workers bet a month's salary on who can go the longest without stepping outside of the city's maze of glass towers, malls, interconnected walkways, and food courts into the fresh air.



Alberta has produced many authors, but none so beloved as W.O. Mitchell. Mitchell, who died in 1998, was born in Saskatchewan but spent the majority of his adult life in Alberta, and was a significant influence on some of Alberta's major cultural institutions, including the Banff Centre, where he was director in the early '70s. Called Canada's Mark Twain by some for his ability to capture rural prairie life, his most celebrated work is likely Who Has Seen the Wind, about coming of age on the Canadian prairies. It's been described by some as Canada's Catcher in the Rye. Mitchell died in Calgary, aged 83.

Mitchell's stature as a writer helped spawn a new generation of authors in the province, among them Rudy Wiebe, an epic tragedy writer of the Canadian prairies (his 1973 novel The Temptations of Big Bear won the Governor General's prize for fiction, his first of two), and William P. Kinsella, the author of Shoeless Joe -- which became the Hollywood movie Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner -- who was born in Edmonton and spent his formative years in the province before moving to British Columbia. Guy Vanderhaeghe, from neighboring Saskatchewan, penned one of the country's great novels, The Englishman's Boy, which hinges on the events of Alberta's Cypress Hills massacre.

Meanwhile, in poetry, one of Canada's most prolific and influential poets, Earle Birney, was born in Calgary in 1904. After a career that involved teaching, activism, and the creation of more than 50 books, some of them novels, Birney died in 1995 at the age of 91.



While pop culture fans may grouse that he's far outstripped in notoriety, fame, and record sales by Alberta's best-known songstress, k.d. lang, there's little point disputing that Ian Tyson is the province's iconic troubadour. Tyson penned one of the best-known folk songs of all time, Four Strong Winds, with his wife Sylvia in the '60s, and since then has cemented his reputation as one of the most prominent singer-songwriters of all time. Tyson still lives on his ranch along the Cowboy Trail, and remains a devout Albertan. In 2006, when rampant oil development in southern Alberta seemed poised to threaten some of the wild foothills, Tyson led a protest group to government.

Lang, meanwhile, also isn't one to shy away from political issues in her home province, but she's made more foes than friends. Lang, a vegan, made a commercial for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals where she denounced the beef industry: "If you knew how meat was made, you'd probably lose your lunch," she said. "I know. I'm from cattle country. That's why I became a vegetarian."


Needless to say, this didn't go over well in her tiny hometown of Consort, Alberta, in the heart of Alberta ranching territory; the sign that once proudly proclaimed it the "home of k.d. lang" was defaced overnight.

But she's not the only superstar. After years of working the nightclub circuit in Calgary, native Calgarian Jann Arden broke through in 1994 with her hit single "Insensitive," which made it to #12 on the Billboard charts. Arden never looked back as she went on to register 17 top-ten singles from eight albums. Still a devout Calgarian, until recently Jann ran a restaurant with her family, the Arden Diner, on trendy 17th Avenue. It closed in 2007.

But the most prominent Albertans to reach rock stardom on a global scale are tiny Hanna, Alberta's Nickelback. Fronted by lead singer Chad Kroeger, their 2001 single "How You Remind Me" reached #1 on both Canadian and American charts; it finished 2002 as the Billboard Hot 100 #1 single of the year. The band has gone on to produce a string of hits, including "Hero" for the movie Spider Man 2.


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