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Monday June 18th 2018

The Revenant | 2015

The Revenant filming location: Dead Man's Flats, Alberta
The Revenant location: the setting for 'Fort Kiowa': Dead Man's Flats, Alberta | Photograph: iStockphoto / James Gabbert

American frontiersman, fur trapper and trader Hugh Glass is remembered for the legend of his survival after being mauled by a grizzly bear. There’s no written account from Glass himself and the story is likely to have been wildly embellished over the years, so there’s quite a bit of leeway for the script.

Realism was the keyword so the film was shot chronologically and with a minimum of digital effects.

The decision by director Alejandro G Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to shoot only with natural light gave only a few shooting hours were each day, resulting in a schedule of 80 days spread over nine gruelling months in punishingly cold and remote locations.

The story is set in 1823 'Montana' and 'South Dakota', but most of the film was in fact shot in Canada, in Kananaskis Country and the spectacular scenery of Bow Valley in the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary, Alberta. The area also previously in for ‘Wyoming’ in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain.

Sets for the film by Production Designer Jack Fisk include the ruined  church, the Pawnee village, a 40-foot mountain of buffalo skulls and the frontier fort, which was built from lumber discarded by the Canadian Park service.

The opening bloody ambush on fur-traders by the Arikara Native Americans was shot in Stoney First Nations Reserve, a real Native American reserve near Morley, about 20 miles west of Calgary.

It’s after surviving this initial attack, as the trappers head for the safety of their fort, that Glass is mauled almost to death by a bear in a scene of breathtaking ferocity. Iñárritu is understandably secretive about how this bravura sequence was filmed. Leonardo DiCaprio was apparently yanked around on a harness, smashing into prop rubber trees, while the grizzly was largely added by motion-capture – one of the few concessions to full-on CGI.

The scene was filmed not in Alberta but in British Columbia, in Derringer Forest, a small area on the east side of Squamish River, beneath Mount Cayley about 30 miles northwest of Squamish itself.

About a mile to the south, the severely Glass is carried on a makeshift stretcher across the sandbar at Shovelnose Creek.

With Glass’s chances of surviving his wounds minimal and his presence slowing the party’s progress, Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) leaves Glass in the tender care of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and young Bridger (Will Poulter) until they can return with help.

The ruthless Fitzgerald soon kills Glass’s son and leaves the incapacitated man behind to make his own way back to the fort.

The mountain wilderness through which Fitzgerald travels was filmed near Fortress Mountain Resort, a ski resort about 70 miles west of Calgary near the Kananaskis Trail in Kananaskis Country.  Snowy scenes for Inception and The Bourne Legacy were filmed in the same area.

It’s in the Badlands of Drumheller, about 60 miles northeast of Calgary, that Fitzgerald witnesses a meteor falling to earth. It's hard to miss the area’s signature rock faces. The area is known for its sheer rock faces and its ‘hoodoos’, tall rock formations rising up from the desert landscape, as well as a wealth of fossils which have earned it the name Dinosaur Capital of the World.

Driven by the need for revenge, Glass summons astonishing willpower and manages against all odds to survive, beginning his own slow and painful journey to safety.

The Revenant filming location: Kootenai Falls, Montana
The Revenant location: Glass escapes down the rapids: Kootenai Falls, Montana | Photograph: iStockphoto / mjphotacoma

In a scene filmed in the USA, Glass escapes from a party of pursuing Arikara using the rapids of Kootenai Falls, just downstream from Libby, Montana, one of the largest free-flowing waterfalls in the Northwest with a 90 feet drop. Movie buffs might recognise this stretch of water from Curtis Hanson’s 1994 The River Wild, with Meryl Streep.

The destination for all is ‘Fort Kiowa’, a set built at Dead Man’s Flats, further west toward Canmore, overlooked by the rugged peak of Castle Rock.

As production dragged on, the arrival of warm Chinook winds in southern Alberta resulted in a sudden melting of the snow. At first, snow had to be trucked in as a temporary solution, but the production was finally forced to relocate.

And what a relocation. The final scenes were filmed over four days on Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago split between Argentina and Chile off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland, across the Strait of Magellan.

The confrontation between Glass and Fitzgerald, was filmed on the Olivia River, in the mountains just northeast of Ushuaia, a resort town (though don’t imagine palm trees and sunny beaches) on the southern coast of the main island, Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, the part belonging to Argentina.

The local airport, Malvinas Argentinas International Airport, is the world's southernmost international airport, often used as a cruise-ship gateway to the Antarctic.

The 1971 film, Man in the Wilderness (1971), starring Richard Harris as ‘Zachary Bass’ and John Huston as Captain Henry, is based on the same story.