When Kevan Funk set out to film his hockey drama Hello Destroyer, he looked not to Vancouver, traditionally the hub of the province's production sector, but 800 kilometres to the north in Prince George.
The northern city offered the isolated setting his script required, said Mr. Funk, whose film has its B.C. debut on Saturday at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
"Isolation was something that mattered to me, so I wanted it reflected in the story," Mr. Funk said in an interview. He thought about Kelowna, but noted the Okanagan city " just doesn't scream 'Canadian winter' to me."
The cast and crew spent 24 days earlier this year in Prince George filming Hello Destroyer, which follows a junior-level hockey player (played by Jared Abrahamson) whose life falls apart after he seriously injures another player in an on-ice fight.
Proponents of the production sector in northern B.C. are hoping Destroyer, although modestly budgeted at $500,000, will bring other filmmakers to the region's largest city to shoot movies and TV series, breaking a dry spell. Asked about the last big film shot there, local officials cite 2003's Dreamcatcher, adapted from a Stephen King story. Four years earlier, Ben Affleck was in town for the feature film Reindeer Games.
Other areas of the north such as Prince Rupert, Smithers and Stewart have also hosted TV and feature film projects.
"We fell madly in love with Prince George," said Mr. Funk, a 30-year-old film-studies graduate of Emily Carr University, who has been honoured for his short films. Destroyers is the first full-length feature film he has written and directed. "I don't think there would have been a better place to shoot."
At one point, the Destroyer team called for volunteer extras to fill the stands for a key hockey fight scene. About 2,000 people showed up at Prince George's CN Centre.
"They lined up for two hours before we even opened the doors," Mr. Funk said. Some came with T-shirts and faces painted in sync with the imagery of the fictitious Prince George team featured on the production's Facebook page.
By comparison, he said, the public in the Vancouver region – the hub of the booming production sector – can be a bit blasé.
All of this is a rare moment for Prince George, largely sidelined in the TV and feature-film production boom in B.C. that has been focused on the Lower Mainland.
Clint Fraser, CEO of the Northern BC Tourism Association, said that while Prince George has no sound stages, there are options for securing such facilities. He said one of the key competitive advantages of the North in vying for film-making is sustained snow and compelling landscapes.
Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall said the city is prepared to facilitate productions.
"In certain respects, it puts the community on the map," he said.
Mr. Funk said the city gets a "bad rap," largely from people who have never been there. "There are some tough elements of it, but there are tough elements in a lot of cities."
He said community support for the film was "really intense." Half the cast, largely in small roles, were residents of Prince George. "People knew the film was a serious film, a dark film, but there was still this pride and excitement of being the backdrop for the story."
The film is distinct in the production boom for another reason. Only about 27 per cent of dramatic feature films produced in B.C. in the past fiscal year were made by Canadians or British Columbians, according to the agency Creative BC.
Destroyer, Mr. Funk said, hangs on a theme of how society can be implicated in institutionalized violence such as the conduct of the young hockey player, who ends up being as much a victim as the target of his assault.
Mr. Funk said he could have made the same points in a military or football setting, but wanted to make a specifically Canadian film. "Hockey, in my mind, happens to be our biggest cultural institution."
Hello Destroyer is playing at the Vancouver International Film Festival on Saturday and next Thursday. More information at viff.org