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The destruction by fire of an Osoyoos-area movie set is a big loss for the British Columbia film industry, says Jon Summerland, film commissioner with the Okanagan Film Commission.
The old West village below Mount Kobau on land belonging to rancher Ace Elkink burned in a fire July 15 that spread over 4.5 hectares of surrounding grasslands.
The fire is believed to have been human caused and is under investigation. Unofficially, locals believe it was a case of arson at the movie set.
The set, consisting of seven buildings, was used in the 2010 movie Gunless staring Paul Gross, who played an American gunslinger who stumbles into a friendly Canadian town that doesn’t understand the gun slinging ways of the American West.
Summerland said he has had continuous interest from filmmakers in using the set and there are four movies currently that planned to use it.
The set has been used in at least one other movie, a Mexican film called Dance of the Little Old Man, as well as in photo shoots and as a venue for weddings.
“It’s one of my most popular locations for sure,” said Summerland. “Our little town was a complete duster so if you rode your horse, it kicked up dust and atmosphere and it had a way better cinematic look, so it was very special – a 360-degree vista of wilderness range land. It was perfect. A character in itself.”
Elkink, the rancher, said when the set was turned over to him he was told that Brightlight Pictures Inc. of Vancouver spent $400,000 on it when Gunless was made.
Often sets are built just showing the fronts of buildings, but this set consisted of entire buildings, both Elkink and Summerland said.
Elkink said he’s had problems with trespassers hiking in from sideroads that cross Hwy. 97.
“We’ve had trouble with the transients that camp in there,” said Elkink. “We’ve kicked them out a number of times.”
In addition to the Gunless movie set, other parts of the large Elkink Ranch have been used in numerous other films, most recently a Punjabi film called Crash.
“I’ve lost count,” Elkink said when asked how many films have been made on his property. “There’s been quite a number. Basically it’s getting to be the last place where there’s a lot of room that they can go to and that doesn’t look like there’s civilization.”
Summerland said the buildings on the destroyed set included a school, church, corner store with pub, laundry, doctor’s house and a blacksmith shop. A ranch building was left standing, but will be taken down.
Besides the financial loss, the Osoyoos area risks losing film opportunities to other locations such as Wild Horse Town, near Kamloops and Bordertown, near Mission, both Danny Virtue properties.
As for doing more western movies using an old village near Osoyoos, “They’ve got to start from square one,” Elkink said.