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Halifax becomes Hollywood north

Jan 1, 2003

"All the world's a stage" was certainly the case on the harbor-front of the historic old port city of Halifax during this past March and April. It seemed you couldn't walk into a waterfront pub or eatery without tripping over major film stars and their handlers, all of whom were in town making two movies with nautical themes, The Shipping News and K-19: The Widowmaker.

The Shipping News based on Annie Proulx's 1993 National Book Award novel of the same name, was being shot in both Halifax and Newfoundland. It stars Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Dame Judy Dench, and Kevin Spacey, and is produced by Lasse Hallstrom (of Cider House Rules fame). The movie tells the story of a luckless newspaper man (played by Spacey) who moves back to his family's home town, a fishing community on the coast of Newfoundland, with his two daughters after the girls had been forced into lives of prostitution by Spacey's unbalanced ex-wife (played by Blanchett). The movie is expected to sail into North American theaters sometime in early 2002.

While The Shipping News was filming at Electropolis Studios downtown, the production crew of K-19: The Widowmaker, starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, was completing a Soviet-era set at the Halifax Shipyard, less than two miles up the harbor. A genuine Juliet-class Soviet sub used in the filming was modified and lengthened at the same shipyard.

Ford plays the commander of a Soviet nuclear submarine who must prevent a nuclear explosion aboard his vessel and save mankind from a third world war. Anyone listening to Halifax VHF marine harbor traffic could easily follow the movements of vessels used in the shooting, and the sight of a tug cruising up the harbor with a brightly painted funnel sporting a yellow hammer and sickle surprised early-morning ferry passengers. (Theodore Tugboat, homeport Halifax, evidently frightened of the "Red Menace," was nowhere to be seen.) Large signs in Cyrillic on shipyard buildings initially caused some unease among naval personnel at HMC Dockyard, located just next door to the shipyard, while plywood barriers along Barrington St. prevented passing late-model vehicles from intruding on the set's gray, 1960s Communist ambience.