A Stunning Backdrop

Alberta in the Movies, 1917-1960

By (author) Mary Graham
Categories: Performing Arts
Publisher: University of Calgary Press
Paperback : 9781773853932, 416 pages, October 2022

The unconventional, untold story of Alberta’s film history, defined by the terrible beautify of its pristine landscape, surprisingly important to Hollywood, and recaptured in lost or ignored Indigenous perspectives and stories.


Alberta’s magnificent landscape has served as a popular location for filmmakers since the dawn of the movie industry. For film pioneers, Alberta embodied the myth of the Great Northwest, a primeval mountain wilderness and the last western frontier. In turn, Canadian entrepreneurs were eager for American studios to drape Alberta landscape across the backdrop of their movies, an advertisement without equal.

A Stunning Backdrop is the untold story of six rollicking decades of filmmaking in Alberta. Mary Graham draws on twelve years of exhaustive research to reveal a film history like no other, illuminating the deep importance of the province to Hollywood. She explores the often friendly partnerships between American filmmakers and Indigenous communities, particularly the Stoney Nakoda, that provided economic opportunities and, in many cases, allowed them to retain religious and cultural practices banned by the Canadian government.

Beautifully illustrated with archival photography and featuring century-old set stills alongside photographs of the locations as they appear today, by Jean Becq, Solomon Chiniquay, Jeff Wallace, George Webber, and Paul Zizka, A Stunning Backdrop is the fascinating, often surprising, always unconventional story of film in a province whose rugged, compelling, multifarious, terribly beautiful landscape continues to inspire filmmakers and audiences around the world.


  • Winner, Alberta Book Publishing Awards Regional Book of the Year 2023
  • Winner, Bronze Medal - PubWest Design Awards, Historical Book 2023


The book is well researched, and a beautifully illustrated one with great photographs, stills from productions, as well as more recent photos showcasing where some memorable movies were shot.

- The Commentary

Graham, a writer and film historian, compiles her 12 years of research on Alberta?s film industry in the first half of the 20th century

- The Winnipeg Free Press

Hollywood?s biggest stars have spent a lot of quality time chewing the scenery around Banff and Jasper . . . While she covers all the bases, journalist-historian Mary Graham?s primary focus is on the impact of the Stoney Nakoda people, who worked as guides, location scouts and actors, occasionally in ways that allowed them to preserve and celebrate their culture.

- The National Post

Very, Very Cool.

- Historica Canadiana-A Cultural History of Canada