Liam Neeson Thriller Denied Park Shooting Permit Over Indigenous Character Portrayal

Liam Neeson - Getty - H 2017
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'Hard Powder,' financed by StudioCanal, will not shoot in Banff National Park after the federal government rejected how an First Nations character is portrayed.

Liam Neeson's Hard Powder, a Rocky Mountains-set action thriller, has been denied a permit to shoot some locations in Canada's Banff National Park over how an indigenous character, played by First Nations actor Tom Jackson, is portrayed.

The indie, from European group StudioCanal and producer Michael Shamberg, was denied a permit by Parks Canada, the federal agency that oversees government-owned recreational parks, to have locations in Banff and Jasper, Alberta double as Colorado.

"In addition to some administrative details and outstanding documentation, Parks Canada’s commitment to reconciliation and respect for indigenous peoples was an important factor in the agency’s final decision on this matter," Parks Canada spokeswoman Meaghan Bradley said in a statement.

"For too long, the stories of Canada's indigenous peoples were ignored or misrepresented... Parks Canada maintains the right to refuse applications that are not in line with Parks Canada’s mandate or operational priorities," Bradley added.

Shamberg said his action pic had fallen victim to "opaque" bureaucratic rules and needless obstacles, considering Alberta offers Los Angeles producers tax breaks to shoot in the province. "To have one government agency say come here, and another say don't shoot here, is counter-productive and inefficient," he told The Hollywood Reporter.

Shamberg added that Parks Canada objected to Jackson's native American character being depicted as a mafia boss without consulting First Nations representatives. "For editorial reasons, I don't think it's their business because the film will be shot in Canada anyway. It's a form of censorship that's counter-productive because our production will help the local economy," he said.

Shamberg also rejected Parks Canada's contention that his film failed to provide "sufficient information" to ensure the location shooting would be environmentally friendly in a mountain park, and that the impact of trucks, cranes or generators used on set would be minimized. He argued an environmental study was provided months in advance, and that "the goalposts kept moving back and forth."

Hans Petter Moland is set to direct Hard Powder, with Neeson playing an upright snowplow driver whose son is murdered by a Colorado drug kingpin. Location shooting on Hard Powder will now shift to Kananaskis, which is near Banff but outside the borders of Banff National Park, and Fernie and Cranbrook in British Columbia.

Jackson, a veteran Canadian actor with credits including North of 60 and The Best Laid Plans, is a consultant on Hard Powder and in a statement told the Hollywood Reporter his indigenous culture is not insulted "even slightly by the script, especially as First Nation people in this satirical story stand up against traditional stereotypes."

Jackson concedes gang warfare appears in the script, "but in true storytelling form and in life, gangs are all around us." The Canadian actor defended the right of his film to have First Nation characters as villains, adding "it would be an oversight for Parks Canada to not reconsider the opportunity to support our arts, our culture and the Alberta film industry."

Based on a screenplay by Frank Baldwin, Hard Powder is adapted from Moland’s Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance. The Canadian Rockies and Alberta have hosted movie shoots for The Revenant, Brokeback Mountain and Inception and TV's Fargo and Hell on Wheels.

March 13, 9:00 a.m. Updated with comments by Hard Powder producer Michael Shamberg and co-lead Tom Jackson.