Long Live Chainsaw Paints a Vivid Picture of Spirited Canadian Downhiller Stevie Smith [Review]

Long Live Chainsaw, a documentary film about legendary mountain biker Stevie Smith, is available for digital download today and is showing in theaters through January, 2022.
Photo: Paris Gore / courtesy of Anthill Films

To one degree or another, when someone we admire for their contributions to the world passes away, we mourn. These people — celebrities, musicians, and athletes — are collectively mourned because they have inspired a greater group of people. Musicians become familiar soundtracks to our lives’ moments and offer us a relatable voice when we need it most. Actors make us laugh or cry and we envision ourselves in their scripted depiction. Athletes inspire us to get out on the field, court, or trail and push our minds and bodies to draw every last drop of strength from our well of energy.

While winning in the pursuit of athletics and competition can often seem trivial, determined athletes remind us what we learn from winning, especially when victory may be unlikely; anything is possible when we’re willing to put the work in. Those stories have the potential to make us all reach to be better.

Like a lot of mountain bikers who have their finger on the competitive side of the sport, I had of course heard of and recognized Stevie Smith’s name and a portion of his legacy. Anthill Films’ newest picture, Long Live Chainsaw, which depicts Smith’s rags to rippin’ story in the form of a posthumously produced documentary brings the Canadian to life in the form of dozens and dozens of interviews, photos, and recordings and paints a vivid picture of the Canadian, his lasting legacy, and why his role in mountain biking matters.

Long Live Chainsaw starts in Cassidy, BC, a small town on Vancouver Island across from the big city of Vancouver. While mountain biking in 2021 has been vastly legitimized as a sport and parents can throw their children in scholastic mountain bike programs, teach their children how to ride one of many youth mountain bikes, or even tow them up a mountain with a specially made strap, Smith and his sister were raised by their mother in a single-wide trailer. Smith’s father is absent and his mother Tianna must direct his energy toward the best outlets she can find.

Bikes of course enter the picture. Early in the film, Anthill introduces Smith’s mother, sister, and his childhood mentors who channel Smith’s energy onto two wheels. Otherwise, his appetite for thrill could have easily wandered into something more self-destructive. Between Smith’s mother, his early “big brother” and mentor Bill Monoghan, and team manager Gabe Fox, viewers get to see the support squad that forms around Smith and his distinct talent for downhill speed.

As the film continues, we see more and more interviews with people who knew Smith. A former girlfriend and friend talk about palling around Cassidy with Smith, we meet Smith’s BMX team coach that got him started racing, and before long we’re in the back of a van with Smith, Brook Macdonald, Gee Atherton, and other downhillers drawing on Stevie’s face. The amount of interviews in Long Live Chainsaw and the tone behind them is undoubtedly indicative of how many people Smith impacted and how deeply people cared for him.

Not only does Anthill interview extensively, but they also have archival newspaper clippings from events that Smith participated in as a kid and old video clips — the kind of stuff that would be easy to lose, easy to miss, and very hard to find. For context around Smith’s childhood home, they capture the overgrown weeds around their trailer and oxidized doorknobs and the things that let us really feel a place.

A major chunk of the film and a chunk that lends perspective is Smith’s importance in World Cup Downhill and what it means for Canadian racers and hopefuls. Smith’s home field win at Mont Saint Anne in 2013 and ultimately his overall title win that same year seemed to give rise to a new generation of Canadian speed racers who are following in his footsteps.

Typically, mountain bike films focus on the hedonic elements of the sport. Riders gather in a small theater, drink craft beer, and cheer as the pros land enormous step downs with some ocean or alpine scenery in the background. They are well-shot dream rolls and the best riders in the world, who some of us may or may not be familiar with, show us how to ride the most stunning trails in the world. It’s a fun but well-used theme.

Long Live Chainsaw delivers a powerful story that inspires mountain bikers particularly but is also capable of touching those beyond our own core sport. The recordings of Smith are personal, the interviews are emotive, and the details are meticulous. Anthill Films has done a great job telling the story and bringing it forward with a film that memorializes his energy for mountain biking and life.

Anthill Films is releasing the film for digital download today. Currently, there are dates for showings across the world through January 2022. Proceeds are going to Steve Smith’s Legacy Fund.