Home > MTB

The making of “Long Live Chainsaw”

In conversation with Anthill's Ian Dunn about creating the new Stevie Smith documentary

Photo by: Sven Martin / Anthill Films

After a month on the road at screenings around the world, Long Live Chainsaw is now available for viewers to watch at home.

The film tells the inspiring story of Steve Smith’s rise from Cassidy, B.C. to the top of the World Cup standings, his untimely death at the age of 26, and the legacy he leaves behind in Canadian mountain biking.

I talked to Anthill Films’ Ian Dunn, one of the producers behind Long Live Chainsaw, about difficulties of making the film in the middle of a pandemic, the process of making such an intensely personal film, and why Smith continues to have such an incredible influence both here in Canada and around the world.

Long Live Chainsaw Anthill Films
On set at Mt. Prevost, where Smith cut his teeth on a downhill bike. Photo: Jo Osborne / Anthill Films
Canadian Cycling Magazine: Watching the film I found I had been so focused on the sad part of the story that I was surprised how joyous it is. There’s times when it is outright funny. The movie does an excellent job of telling both sides of Smith’s story, but also makes it clear that his death isn’t the end of the story. How did you find that balance?

Ian Dunn: Going into this we definitely knew that we wanted to tell both sides of that story. Especially because we knew Stevie and worked with him on so many projects. The way he lived life so full on totally paired with how he rode his bike. So we really wanted to have that represented as much as we could. A 90 minute film feels like such a long time, but you still have to try to keep it focused. So we tried to strike that balance as much as possible.

We also knew we didn’t want to end on his passing because – and I think this is one of the things that is so obvious now when you talk to some of the athletes – because of how big of a role his accomplishments played in Canadian cycling, especially in downhill racing. When you look at the athletes now and see the results they’re getting, Stevie really laid the groundwork for that. He planted a flag on a hill that will always be there, and people will always look to for inspiration. We felt that was a really important message to end on.

Stevie’s a big figure internationally as well as here in Canada. Was there any attempt to balance Stevie Smith as a global figure and a Canadian icon? Or did those naturally work together?

There was a question of whether it was going to become too Canadian of a story. But we didn’t want to shy away from that because he is such a hero in Canada. He accomplished things that no Canadian’s ever done before, and we thought it was really important to focus on that. Stevie was a really proud Canadian and he was always so stoked to see Canadians doing well. So we intentionally did include that.

Long Live Chainsaw Anthill Films
Magnus Manson, Finn Iles, Mark Wallace and the Anthill crew check the footage while shooting on Prevost. Photo: Jo Osborne / Anthill Films
The film does talk about Smith’s legacy for future riders. How do you think the film adds to or expands his legacy?

We want there to be more heroes in cycling, especially on the downhill side of the sport. We want young riders to be able to watch this and think “If Stevie can do it, why can’t I?” Because he had everything stacked against him.

For Anthill as a whole, we’re trying to tell stories that inspire people to get out and ride their bikes. So I hope that the film does that.

Anthill’s connection to Stevie goes back a long way – to your third film, Seasons [2008] What did it mean for the crew to have the opportunity to tell that story again?

When we learned about Stevie’s passing, it was devastating for the crew. We are quite close with a lot of the athletes that we work with, but we were also big fans of Stevie, too. After working with him for so many years, it took a long time before we were ready to dive into the project.

It became a really important project for us, something where we wanted to make sure that we gave everything we could. We also wanted to make sure it wasn’t something that we’ve claimed as our own. Obviously it wasn’t possible to include everyone with a connection to Stevie, but we wanted to include as many people in the process as we could.

That’s also why we wanted to make sure the money that was made from the film went directly to the Stevie Smith Legacy Foundation.

You were making this really emotionally intense film in the middle of a pandemic. That was already a really stressful time for everyone. On top of that, you’re doing these really emotionally charged interviews with Tiana Smith and the rest of the family and Stevie’s close friends. On a personal level, how difficult was that movie to make?

Darcy Wittenburg was on every single one of those interviews. Even the remote ones, he would be available on Zoom still interacting with the people we were interviewing. It was interesting talking to him about that. On the one hand he said it was a hugely emotionally draining experience, and a lot of the interviews were intense. But he also said it was something he really enjoyed and that it was a healing thing for him. To connect on a really deep level with so many people that were so close to Stevie and cared about him helped Darcy come to terms with Stevie’s passing. Darcy felt, I think, really privileged and honoured to be in that position.

Stevie Smith Leogang Long Live Chainsaw
Steve Smith on course in Leogang. Videographers and photographers, like Sven Martin, dug into their archives to make Long Live Chainsaw possible. Photo: Sven Martin
More practically, how hard was it to make a movie with an international cast in the middle of a pandemic? How did you have to adapt the production of the film to make that happen?

Darcy, who led production and directed LLC, headed that process. On the one hand it was intimidating because we’d never made a film before where you couldn’t travel. But the pandemic is also what allowed for us to be able to make the movie.

It’s a project we’d wanted to do, but it took a couple years before we were ready to, and before Stevie’s mom and friends and family were ready to dive back into it. When COVID hit, a bunch of work got cancelled, so that actually created a window for us to have the time to work on it.

We’d done a couple smaller projects where we’d hired people on the ground to supplement what we were doing locally. That actually worked way better than we’d anticipated, which gave us the confidence that we could make this film.

The really cool thing about Stevie was that pretty much everyone we worked with on the film, they had a personal connection to him. Everyone was just like “What do you need me to do?” and worked either at cost or totally for free, donating their time, footage and ideas. It became this global collaborative effort to bring it all together.

Parts of the film rely heavily on archival footage, some of which is over a decade old now. Was there any difficulty getting that footage? Or was it a matter of sorting through too much stuff?

It was a massive undertaking. Darren McCullough, another partner here at Anthill Films, he led the post-production process to sort through all the footage. We had a pretty good idea who had footage. But again, it was really cool the connections that came out. Darcy would talk to the people we knew and they’d add that we should talk to someone else as well. Then Darren had to categorize, organize and get all of that onto the hard drive.

Now we have this whole library of footage from Stevie’s entire career. It’s awesome to have that all preserved in one place.

Other than the practical part of having other productions shut down because of the pandemic, why did you think it was important to make the film, and why make it now?

The timing was right. We wanted to make sure we captured this story before there was too much distance to when he passed and when these events happened. We wanted to make sure that we created something that preserved his memory but also introduced him to a new audience in the hopes that that would grow support for the foundation.

We didn’t really know how extensive the work the Foundation was doing. We wanted the film to be a springboard for the Foundation to grow and continue doing that amazing work. Downhill in Canada is an expensive sport and there’s not a lot of support for riders to be able to go race and compete overseas, which is where you need to be. It felt like the timing was right for the film to fit with the work they were doing at the Foundation.

Long Live Chainsaw is available for purchase now available for purchase now on iTunes, Apple TV, Vimeo on Demand, Google Play, Amazon, Xbox Movie or Vudu. All proceeds from the sale of the film go directly to the Stevie Smith Legacy Foundation.