Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Movie romance The Way To The Heart showcases natural beauty of Prince George

Weekend premiere at Civic Centre brings into focus city's potential as location hotspot for burgeoning movie industry

Months before she died of pancreatic cancer, Nada Newell experienced the thrill of movie-making, a passion she shared with her father – Yugoslavian silent-film expressionism-era pioneer Franjo Ludic.

Her involvement as an executive producer and small-role actress alongside her husband Tom in the made-in-Prince-George movie The Way To The Heart was one of the proudest moments of her life and it provided the emotional backdrop for the Prince George Civic Centre audience that attended Friday’s premiere screening.

Nada never got to see her father making movies. His involvement in the industry happened decades before she was born. After years of success living in Berlin, his career ended abruptly in the mid-1920s with the collapse of Germany’s economy between the two world wars. Ledic invested his life savings to open Yugoslavia’s first film studio in 1925 but after the first movie he made there flopped, the studio soon went bankrupt and he ended his career making short films and working in a leather factory.

Having moved to Canada as a young adult, leaving her parents behind in Zagreb, Nada identified with one of the central themes of The Way To The Heart, the sense of loss and strain of trying to maintain family ties while separated by great distances and the triumph of rekindling those ties. Writer Alexa Gilker adapted the script to include personal details about Tom and Nada and how owning that Cadillac was a labour of love they shared together in the time it took to make that antique road-worthy.

“This movie meant so much to her and part of the movie is very true, she picked that car, and it didn’t run for about two years after we got it,” said Tom Newell. “This is a dream that came true for her. When (director Wendy Ord) gave her the storyboard (which contains all her notes used during the filming), she came home and said it was the proudest day of her life, and now she knew why her dad loved movies so much.”

Shot last June, the Barker Street Cinema production A Way To The Heart is a love story that shows off the natural side of the city and its lush green natural beauty in a way no other movie filmed on location in Prince George has ever done. The city is mentioned by name, it’s not disguised to make it look like Smalltown USA. It’s guaranteed to bring a touch of pride to P.G. residents while it plucks at the heartstrings, as you would expect a romance movie would do.

The story revolves around Ava Miller (Meghan Heffern), a big-city chef who left her Prince George hometown after her mother died, partly to get away from curmudgeon father Donny (Peter Graham-Gaudreau). Ava falls into a rut as the head chef of a fancy restaurant and on the recommendation of her boss she comes back home to try to re-ignite her passion for cooking. Donny, an auto mechanic whose shop is the real-life Pinedale Auto Wreckers, barely acknowledges her return and would rather spend time trying to fix his 1926 Cadillac than he would tryout out some of Ava’s fancy cooking creations. He’s hooked on Trench beer, made locally, and for a good chunk of the movie there’s not much to like about his character.

Ava rekindles her love for Bill’s son Logan (Jon Cor), her childhood best friend, who operates a farmer’s market west of the city (the former Noah’s Ark Adventureland petting zoo). They spend time together paddling a canoe at Shane Lake and digging in the forest foraging for mushrooms and fiddleheads to bring to the market and Logan is proud to “show what Prince George has to offer.” They talk about how their lives took separate but similar paths that eventually brought them back together and with that comes the realization for Ava, “I don’t hate it here.”

Donny's got a running feud with his neighbour Tom (real-life Food Network chef Bob Blumer) and until Ava finds out the reason why her father spends so much time tinkering with that old car he remains distant and cold to all he encounters. The car was his distraction from the pain he felt from losing his wife, while Ava used her cooking skills to keep her mind occupied until she reached the point she had to leave to get away from her miserable dad and put herself through culinary school.

In her first movie role, Sandra Clermont plays Julia, the wife of Tom, and she elegantly delivers her lines smoothly and convincingly in the outdoor dining scene, filmed at a house in the Pidherny subdivision on the west side of the city near the Nechako River.

The movie was also Blumer’s first acting work for the silver screen. Born and raised in Montreal, he’s lived in Los Angeles 32 years and has been a regular visitor to Prince George to connect with foragers he knows in and around the city and make guest appearances at Northern FanCon, where he got to know The Way To the Heart producer Norm Coyne.

“The real story about the film that’s of interest to the people of Prince George is it’s a very Prince George-centric film,” said Blumer. “The main character is a chef who grew up here and moved to Vancouver and became a superstar chef and burned out. She came back here to get herself together and she rediscovers all the things about Prince George that are so great, including all the foraged ingredients that as a kid she just walked over because she didn’t know much about them. She then started incorporating them into her cooking and eventually opens up a little pop-up restaurant in her dad’s car garage as a way of coming back to the community.

“I think people who see this film anywhere in the country are going to see it as a top-notch movie,” he said. “It punches above its weight.”

Before the screening, the Civic Centre audience was shown a clip of Nada Newell speaking to Coyne for the Small Town, Long Shots documentary about building the film industry in Prince George and in it she revealed her and Tom’s motivation for helping bankroll The Way To The Heart as executive producers.

“I am proud that the people of Prince George accepted these movie productions and actually enjoy watching it (being made) and they would like to watch some more if they can, if they’re allowed to come closer in and be around and see it,” she said. “It is something that we saw sometimes in Vancouver, when they closed the streets and you can peek from a bit further, how it looks.

“Now it’s happening here, we can almost touch it. It doesn’t have to be a big city, it can happen in any small city. Look at what happened in Wells when many artists went there, that’s fantastic. You can’t just come to a certain level and stop, you have to make it bigger if you can. This is my wish and I know Prince George can do that.”

Graham-Gadreau lives in Vancouver and he said location shooting in Prince George last June brought a sense of relief after months of being cooped up in a pandemic cluster. He sees endless potential for the city as a setting for future movie productions.

“The hope with the movie industry with this is you see how beautiful Prince George and the surrounding area is,” he said. “All that stuff, you can’t get that in Vancouver without spending a fortune, and it just doesn’t have the natural beauty. You don’t even have to light it, you just step into it. These lakes here are pristine, the fish, ah, it’s beautiful.

“Kelowna is overwhelmed with the number of films they’re making and we’re shooting all the time in Surrey and Langley and it’s so expensive, just to park your car. So if people know they can come up here and make a film and get these gorgeous locations and that it’s reasonably-priced, for sure people will come here.”

The movie will be shown daily on Super Channel until April 23 and it’s also available on demand starting today on the same channel until Sept. 30, 2023.

The premiere and silent auction was a fundraiser for the United Nations Refugee Agency to help the people of Ukraine relocate during the war.