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The 1988 thriller that saw Sidney Poitier chase a villain onto a BC Ferry — and saw B.C. play itself

Click to play video: 'Sidney Poitier appears in film shot and set in British Columbia'
Sidney Poitier appears in film shot and set in British Columbia
Among trailblazing Hollywood star Sidney Poitier's filmography is a 1988 film both shot and set in British Columbia. The actor is being remembered after dying at age 94. – Jan 7, 2022

As tributes pour in following the death of actor Sidney Poitier, the star is being remembered for his poignant dramatic performances and his trailblazing work as a Black leading man in a mostly-white Hollywood.

Many remember Poitier for his history-making Oscar win for Lilies of the Field, and for performances in films that challenged American racism such as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Heat of the Night.

Read more: Sidney Poitier dead: Legendary actor dies at 94

Many may not, however, know the star appeared in a film that was both shot and partially set in the City of Vancouver and surrounding areas — and which (spoiler) includes an exciting final climax on a BC Ferry at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal.

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The film was 1988’s Shoot to Kill, and starred Poitier in is first role in over a decade as an FBI agent who pursues a murderer into B.C.’s rugged mountains. Co-stars in the Roger Spottiswoode-directed film included Tom Berenger and Kirstie Alley.

A 1988 article in Leigh Valley, Pennsylvania’s Morning Call newspaper offers some insight into what that shoot — years before B.C. would cement its reputation as ‘Hollywood North’ — was like.

After a series of difficult shoots near Hope in the Coquihalla Canyon and nearby mountains — Poitier and Berenger did much of their own stunt work — the actor joked he’d become “a considerable foe of mountain-climbing,” according to the report.

Read more: Betty White dishes on Vancouver, longevity and laughter in 2012 Global BC interview

“All of the stuff — running around on the top of that mountain — I did all that stuff, and I was in wonderful, good shape before the movie started,” he added. “I was a wreck by the time the picture was finished.”

One sequence was so rugged and remote that Poitier, Berenger and the crew had to be helicoptered to a mountaintop because the area had no road access.

“There were no pathways. The snow is on the ground. At the side of the peak there was blue ice,” he said.

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Click to play video: 'Actor and cinematic trailblazer Sidney Poitier dies at 94'
Actor and cinematic trailblazer Sidney Poitier dies at 94

While the sequence was meant to be a three-day shoot, Poitier pulled the plug after one, according to the Morning Call report.

“I refused to go back because I thought it a really dangerous situation. And I also thought that the altitude was such that running and jumping and doing quite physical things up there — I was much too old for that kind of stuff. We finished the shooting on a sound stage in Vancouver.”

Along with remote shoots and high altitude, Poitier and the film’s crew had to contend with grizzly bears, who reportedly came down to their accommodations every morning.

Despite the hardships, Poitier appeared to have been impressed by the province’s natural beauty.

Read more: ‘The real star of the film is Hope’: B.C. community celebrates Rambo’s 35th anniversary

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“It’s good to be out there because you become, in time, attuned to another rhythm, and it’s the natural rhythm. There is a natural rhythm given off by trees and insects and still waters,” he said.

“It is a natural rhythm to which our primal memory is more attuned than it is to urban clutter. You go into the woods and, after awhile, you begin to go with that kind of intangible thing that’s going on there. And that’s good, because the artificiality of the rhythm in a big urban area may not necessarily be good for us. Look what it’s doing to us.”

Click to play video: 'From the archives: Betty White speaks with Global BC'
From the archives: Betty White speaks with Global BC

Other notable locations in the film included Squamish, Buntzen Lake and Nairn Falls Provincial Park, along with Casa Mia in Vancouver (a mansion now being transformed into a long-term care facility), West Vancouver’s British Properties and Robson Square.

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The film even includes an appearance by a fictionalized representation of the Vancouver Police Department.

While the film is unlikely to top any list of Poitier’s iconic performances, it was a box office hit, earning more than US$29 million. It was also critically well-received, and holds a 100 per cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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