Not even a global pandemic could stop the Smoke Eaters story from being told.
Director/producer Robert Barrett and his production crew released the trailer for “Trophy Town” last week, a documentary about the 1939 and ’61 Trail Smoke Eaters, and their unlikely rise to World Hockey Championship icons.
“My aim for the film is to celebrate both World Championship eras,” said Barrett. “These small town hockey players who became classic humble Canadian heroes. And it is safe to say, they couldn’t have done it without Trail on their side.
“They said so themselves.”
Like most things, COVID-19 impacted the film’s release, however, it is pending, as editors put their final touches on the film.
“We’re in the edit stages, currently,” said Barrett. “COVID lockdowns have slowed the process. I was contemplating having the film completed by late fall, but now the completion is looking more like March.”
The film industry as a whole has been hit hard with theatres forced to close their doors, and uncertainty hanging like a proverbial sword over their respective futures.
“The plan was to premiere the film in Trail, this spring,” he continued. “I really want to share this with local fans and supporters. Right now those plans are in a holding pattern.”
Barrett along with cinematographer David Cain and writer/producer Dave Alexander visited Trail in October/November 2019 to take footage of the Silver City, interview former players and their wives, meet its residents and get a feel for the small industrial town that could.
The filmmakers attended a Trail Smoke Eaters game, watched 2,400 fans cheer the team to victory, ate at Trail restaurants, and stayed at hotels. They consulted with City of Trail curator Sarah Benson-Lord and videographer Eric Gonzalez, as well as groups like the Colombo Lodge to access archived photos and information to flesh out story lines and bring focus to their accomplishments.
“Trail is very much a member of the cast in this film,” Barrett explained. “The reason we shot sequences last fall was two-fold, one to be in hockey season and the other was to capture the exotic beauty of a Canadian paradise, tucked into the dramatic remoteness and grandeur of the Rockies all wrapped in the blazing colours of autumn. A dynamic contrast to the distance and drama of the ’39 and ’61 teams’ journeys abroad.”
One highlight for Barrett was heading to the Rex Hotel to have a beer with Norm Lenardon and a handful of his ’61 teammates in celebration of Norm’s 86th birthday. With cameras rolling and beer flowing the stories and camaraderie left a lasting impression on the Toronto artist and became a visceral theme for the film.
“The result is very emotional,” said Barrett. “I’m very happy that we could capture what the team meant to Trail and the hard-working locals who proudly wore the jersey and their devoted fans.”
Fortunately, the crew completed filming in February of 2020, ending with former Times Editor and author of “Trail on Ice”, Murray Grieg. It allowed the process to proceed.
“So we had all the relevant imagery and interviews completed by the time COVID started impacting all of our lives,” said Barrett. “As for post production, the writing and editing has taken longer, because I generally prefer to spend some time with my editors in person, and that has not been possible.
“We were also challenged by the breadth of the story and the way in which to share it.”
If the Trophy Town trailer is any indication, the film will provide a thrilling ride back in time, with insight into the two teams and the long road to the worlds, the players and coaches, their personalities, quiet humility and pride of becoming small-town Trail heroes on a world stage.
“I’m very proud of the film and look forward to sharing it, someday, with the keepers of the Smoke Eaters flame, the people who call Trail home.”
And for those who have passed and those who remain, their story is finally told.
“Lastly, I want to pay tribute to Cal Hockley, he was very generous with his time, support and incredible memories of the ’61 team,” added Barrett of the ’61 Smoke Eaters captain who passed away last month.
The Trophy Town director would also like to thank the ’61 team and the many supporters who shared photos and film footage, giving the film a very intimate lens.