Cameron Labine climbs mountain of manhood

The director and writer behind the new movie Mountain Men explores the nature of masculinity as he sets two brothers into the Canadian wilderness to cope with simmering sibling issues, and a medical emergency

 

By Katherine Monk

September 3, 2015, VANCOUVER – Like some of mankind’s most classic adventures, it all started with a great fall. Filmmaker Cam Labine was at a full moon party far up the Squamish River on B.C.’s South Coast. He wasn’t “in his right mind,” started wandering, and took a bad tumble in the dark.

 

“That was sort of a wake up call for me,” says Labine, sitting in a warm and decidedly cozy café in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood. “Growing up in BC, in Maple Ridge, you sort of spend a lot of time outdoors. At least, I spent a lot of time camping and snowboarding and hiking… and you end up feeling comfortable in the mountains, like I belong to them. But with the fall came an epiphany: That I am an urban kid and don’t know how to handle myself in the backcountry.”

 

Labine says that was the nugget of theme that eventually snowballed into Mountain Men, the new feature film about two brothers who run into some trouble in an ill-conceived attempt to bond at the mountain cabin.

 

Shot in Revelstoke last year and opening across Canadian cities this week, Mountain Men stars Gossip Girl’s Chace Crawford and Tyler Labine, the director’s brother, as Toph (Labine) and Cooper (Crawford). Largely opposite in character, Cooper is a straight-laced, ambitious ladykiller while Toph is the small town drug dealer who just knocked up his girlfriend. Cooper doesn’t really have much time for the fraternal thing, but Toph is positively stoked he’s going to get some bro’ time.

 

“I have two brothers and they are a big part of my life and I was interested in how, as we’re becoming older, how do we fit into each other’s lives? It gets harder to figure that out when you don’t live in the same house, or the same city. Do you still need each other? What do you do for each other? Those were the questions I started with.”

 

Labine says along the way, the movie turned into an adventure movie set against the Canadian landscape in late winter. “I also wanted to write a love letter to the Canadian west because I was moving away from the west and sort of feeling sad about that… And I’ve always wanted to make that quintessential Canadian adventure film.”

“I also wanted to write a love letter to the Canadian west because I was moving away from the west and sort of feeling sad about that… And I’ve always wanted to make that quintessential Canadian adventure film.”

I ask Labine what he means by that particular term, and he smiles. We both agree it’s not a phrase you often hear about Canadian film. “I guess maybe not ‘adventure film,’ but like the Grey Fox, like an actual western but something that was about the landscape, and where it plays a character – something that evokes a feeling that we still have wild places. And sometimes we forget just how wild they really are.”

 

Both Cooper and Toph were raised by a mountain man of a father, so they feel confident they can survive their mishap with the truck, and the cabin. But sooner or later, someone takes a bad tumble.

 

“I liked the idea of dual protagonists, where it wasn’t hanging on one or the other. One brother didn’t think he needed the other, and the other couldn’t believe the other didn’t need him. So we had a nice visual metaphor of one brother rescuing the other,” says Labine, who made his first feature in 2008 with Control Alt Delete.

 

“You know, that idea that you’re allowing your brother to rescue you. You are letting go of something.” Finding out what you have to let go of is part of the journey, says Labine, who now also writes Assassin’s Creed scripts for game software giant Ubisoft. “I’m still exploring my feelings as a man and as a brother,” he says.

 

“My real brother is the lead and he liked it. It was obvious to him that I am the Cooper character, maybe not quite as good-looking as Chace, but same ball park.” Labine smiles. “Anyway, he could really relate to Toph, and he could see a truth in our relationship in the brothers.”

 

Ask Labine what that truth is and he takes a moment to reflect. “I guess more the idea of one keeping the other at arm’s length — which I can be guilty of.”

 

Labine says his actor brother Tyler has taught him a lot about expressing his own feelings a little more freely, and since this movie is about one brother learning to express his feelings, he admits: “I guess this movie is about me sharing my feelings for my brothers.”

 

“I think it’s hard for men to express their feelings. Maybe it’s the machismo paradigm we grew up in, not that my father was emotionally withholding at all. We picked it up from somewhere, and we’re trying to undo it.”

 

“I think it’s hard for men to express their feelings. Maybe it’s the machismo paradigm we grew up in, not that my father was emotionally withholding at all. We picked it up from somewhere, and we’re trying to undo it.”

 

Like all good Canadian wilderness movies (and some bad ones), there is a missing paternal figure in the Mountain Men mix. The father was lost in the wilds, presumed dead.

 

“When I started bringing on the father storyline, and realized the movie is definitely about masculinity and the idea they need to define themselves in relation to their father, that was the ah-ha moment. There is a reason for them to be out there now, and it gave the movie something to pivot on.”

 

Labine says his father is alive, but he and his brothers wrestle with a few lingering issues regarding their genetic predispositions. “My dad had a meltdown a few years back and I think we all wondered if we were destined to follow the same path. If we would hit a point where we just couldn’t handle it.”

 

So far, so good: Labine says he and Tyler and their little brother Kyle are all learning to become men in their own ways, and it’s interesting to watch it unfold.

 

“Making a movie is so physically and mentally taxing, I felt more like a man after making it. I mean it’s a movie, but within reason, I do feel I grew a lot in the process of making it… I think I learned how to speak plainly, and not hide behind style.”

 

Mountain Men opens in theatres this week.

 

@katherinemonk

THE EX-PRESS.COM

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