Movie Review: Long Live Chainsaw is Exquisite & Devastating

Dec 8, 2021 at 13:54
by Alicia Leggett  
Photo: Sven Martin

From the opening Stevie Smith quote – “I just get worried about, I’m gonna be old and have nothing to show for, like, what I’ve done” – Anthill’s new feature-length documentary, Long Live Chainsaw, is heartbreaking, earnest, and raw.

Film director Darcy Wittenburg said in an interview that no stone was left unturned in the making of the film, and it's true. Starting at the beginning, at Stevie's birth in 1989, we see baby photos, hear about his early life from his mother and sister, and see the humble trailer where he grew up in Cassidy, outside of Nanaimo, Vancouver Island. We learn how he got his first BMX bike - his mother, Tianna Smith, traded 12 pies for it - and see newspaper clippings from the local papers to commemorate his first wins as a child. Then, of course, we watch him start mountain biking, yearn to be the best, and, eventually, get there.

The idea for the film came from sorting through footage to create a video for Stevie's memorial shortly after his death. Still, it took the next few years before Wittenburg, former team manager Gabe Fox, and the rest of the crew behind the film had processed his loss enough to shoulder the project. The work began in earnest in 2020. In addition to sifting through archival footage, the project required dozens of interviews, starting with those who were closest to Stevie and extending out to those the filmers thought would best round out the storyline.

Photo: Paris Gore

Some of the sections show not only what mountain biking did for Stevie, but what mountain biking can do for anyone: “As hard as he rode biking, he probably would have been just as hard at doing drugs,” Tianna said. In turn, the film reminds us of the impact a rider like Stevie can have on an entire community by showing what someone from that community can do, and on an entire sport.

We hear his mom’s perspective on the shuttle laps she drove for him, recognizing that those laps came not only from knowing that Stevie absolutely loved mountain biking, but also from wanting to protect her son and help him stay out of trouble. It seems like everyone in Stevie's life knew he would be on the edge no matter what, whether on a bike or elsewhere in life.

Stevie’s relationship with his mother is at the heart of the film, and it’s a story both charming and devastating. Tianna’s composure and resilience, raising Stevie and his sister as a single mother and pouring so much of herself into helping him thrive, is exquisite. As viewers, we wince knowing the pain that will come later.

Without giving away too much, the film chronicles Stevie's career while giving time and space to several riders and industry figures who knew Stevie and helped him become the legendary rider he eventually became.


When the movie chronology reaches May 2016, we know what’s going to happen. That doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

The film captures the abruptness of Stevie’s death at a moment when his career was gaining momentum again, the devastating ripple effects of that loss to mountain biking as a whole, and the intense surrealism of grief.

It’s hard for a film to do justice to a tragedy. It’s not delicate, neat, or pretty. I think Anthill handled Stevie's death as elegantly as possible, and that is to say that the movie doesn’t try to make it easier by sanitizing it or fitting it into a tidy box. The last quarter of the movie is gut-wrenching to watch, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. To say I had trouble making it through that section would be an understatement. A glimpse of Jordie Lunn at a memorial for Stevie twists the knife.

Photo: Sven Martin

The film structure feels sensible and helps us transition from high highs to low lows and back to some resolution. The story is broken into chapters separated by date headings, beginning with his birth and ending with his death. Throughout the chapters in between, the film develops several story arcs including Stevie's season-long battle with Gee, which is especially compelling after all the time devoted to interviews with Gee about his relationship with Stevie and what it meant for Gee to watch Stevie develop into a friend, top competitor, and, at times, arch nemesis.

Behind the story, too, is the timeless rags-to-riches tale of someone who succeeded despite not having an even playing field, who climbed out of poverty through sheer talent, determination, and grit, and against all odds, became the best in the world. Through the film's celebration of Stevie's personality, too, one of the take-home messages is to live life to the fullest and cherish all the fleeting moments.

Long Live Chainsaw isn’t just a sports documentary, nor is it a shiny retrospective on Stevie’s lifetime achievements. It’s nuanced, it’s complex, and it’s a sincere look at a real person who was very much alive, and then wasn’t. We knew Anthill would make a great mountain biking movie, but Long Live Chainsaw would be worth the watch even with no bikes. Anthill has done Stevie proud.



Long Live Chainsaw is now available on iTunes, Apple TV, Vimeo on Demand, Google Play, Amazon, Xbox Movie or Vudu. All proceeds from the film will benefit the Stevie Smith Legacy Foundation.


69 Comments

  • 62 0
 Met Stevie in Whistler in 2015 while snowboarding during the Family Day long weekend. He was walking his pet pug and I was pretty nervous to go up and speak to him (I was only 17) but it was absolutely unreal how genuine and nice of a guy he was.

I was super devastated when the news of his passing came and to this day I regret not asking for a photo with him. I'll always have the memory though.

RIP CHAINSAW
  • 43 0
 I randomly met him sitting at the airport in Vegas, both waiting on flights to Vancouver. It was the year he broke his ankle on that massive gap in Queenstown and had just spent a couple of days at Interbike.

My profile picture is me taking a selfie with him at that random moment in time. Won’t ever forget his infectious smile!
  • 32 0
 @Waldon83: Immediately checked your profile pic on reading your post. That is fuxkin' awesome.
  • 37 0
 When so many people get this emotional about someone they didn’t know it shows that this person transcends time, space, social and economic barriers even after their physical presence is gone. This is the mark of a true legend. Human beings are amazing creatures sometimes.
  • 6 0
 Even this review gave me chills, the film will have me in pieces
  • 3 0
 "live life to the fullest and cherish all the fleeting moments" - amen
  • 2 0
 really well said @padirt
  • 1 0
 @blackpudding: Upvote. I feel the same way.
  • 29 0
 Shout out to Ratboy for breaking the eternal crying that started once tiana started speaking of the death.

Was just having a waterfall with all the somber monologues till ratboy chimed in "THE FORT WILLIAM TRAIN WAS EPIC". Stevie and Ratboy just f*ckin love riding bikes. Purest of the pure.
  • 12 0
 Well the trailer made me cry so I knew when I sat down to watch the entire film last night, I was done for. My 2 daughters were handing me tissues lol. Beautiful story and really well done film. Being raised by a single mother myself this story really hit home for me personally. Don’t even try to tell Tiana you are Stevie’s biggest fan!
  • 3 0
 I watched it last night as well, and the tears were flowing.
Now here reading these comments I’m tearing up once more. Massive heartfelt love to all the good people out there, Chainsaw is a legend…RIP Stevie!!!
  • 11 0
 First time I watched The Collective - Seasons, I saw Stevie and was like so impressed how devoted he was, I got influenced to ride since then.
In 2014 I went to whistler and had the opportunity to meet him in person at crank worx, such a cool character, humble, very friendly always smiling like nothing would bother him. after that I was so excited waiting to see his race run at every world cup... and until today every WC I catch myself still waiting for his race run  thank you for the movie and thank you Stevie!
  • 10 0
 I paid to watch it on Prime last night, and it left me in tears too, but also stoked to go ride my bike this weekend. I wasn't even into bikes when Stevie won the overall title in 2013, and didn't even start watching DH world cups on RedBull TV until 2017, by which time he had already passed. Regardless of that, this movie depicted his life and what he meant to every one around him so well. Stevie was definitely an inspiration!
  • 2 0
 I'm similar, started mtbing again in 2012 but only paid attention to rampage up until 2017 where I started following enduro and world cups. But being fully into the sport you learn a lot about past races/seasons and obviously this legend. A true inspiration for everyone!
  • 9 0
 I challenge anyone not to tear up when you see Bulldog crying in the film. Seeing that tough guy breakdown talking about the loss was a tear jerker. Great film and a great legacy.
  • 9 1
 I met Stevie very briefly at the Mont Ste Anne world cup while he was still riding for Cove. My buddy said to me "Hey Steve you want me to take your picture with him?" And Stevie said "No way, your name is Steve too?! sweet name!" and gave me a high five. Ive really liked my name since then.
  • 9 0
 As a parent, I gotta say that Tianna Smith deserves the World Championship Mom of the Century award. Steve Smith was a World Class Mountain Biker. Tianna Smith is a World Class Mom. Both are heroes.
  • 7 0
 Met Stevie in Fort William many years ago now. Was having a good old chat to him....until the point that someone let rip a massive stinker of a fart and he quickly departed!
  • 5 0
 I totally cried, and have at other various tributes regarding him. I've always wondered why and it dawned on me after watching it last night. Across borders and ages, we relate to Stevie because he showed us what a real human can do. And I do mean real human. He checks all the boxes. He had a very humble existence from birth to death and that was constantly demonstrated by an attitude, that, given his fatherless upbringing and lower class status could have made him a dick with a chip, but instead made him salt of earth and ultimately relatable. He had bone breaking (literally) work ethic that was motivated by a simple desire to be the best in the world. And when he became best in the world, he didn't change. He just stayed Stevie. Who can't relate to or love a person like that? Love Live Chainsaw!!!!!
  • 7 0
 Should comment sections make you tear up? Am I gonna make it thru this film?
  • 3 0
 Thanks for the review. I was going to watch it at home this week but decided to buy tickets to a public showing in Ottawa this weekend for my son and I and share the experience with our local MTB crowd. Based on all the comments I will have a few tissues in my pocket. Cheers.
  • 2 0
 It is a great film Dave. Watched it the other night. Glorious and sad both. Have a great time in the theatre, I wanted to have it shown in Kingston, but Covid made it a bit hard. Hope to show it at the barn at Rob’s Farm sometime next year. Until later Big Mike
  • 1 0
 @tiffe: Cheers.
  • 3 0
 Thanks for sharing all of those! Great to have them all in place. The Steve and Ian ones are some of my faves…lol
  • 1 0
 @Tianna1963: Stevie's video segments always brought a smile to my face no matter how low I was feeling at the time.
  • 5 0
 We laughed, we cried, we cheered! It was a great tribute. Long Live Chainsaw!
  • 2 0
 Stevie's battle with Gee during the 2013 season is what got me back into DH racing and riding in 2014 after an eleven year break. I was fortunate to meet him at Windham during the 2015 World Cup race. I haven't watched the film yet, but will soon. Just reading the reviews has me tearing up, so I'm sure watching the film won't be easy.
  • 2 0
 I cannot believe he texted (Messenger) me before he went down his race run and won the overall after i told him that his achievement was already completed, beyond expectation, a true national hero and that all Canada is behind you..
  • 3 0
 I loved the focus on his winning season. Slowly telling the story race to race. Really drives home how special his performance that year was.
  • 1 0
 I am having a hard time getting up the courage to watch it. I tear up just hearing his name, said hi to him at Windham one year, he said hi back like we had known each other. I can't figure out why his loss hurts, maybe taken down in his prime and so much to left to do. I am a huge WC fan, Stevie was not at the top of my list at the time, but I loved watching him win.
  • 2 0
 Just purchased and watched it. The last bit with the 3 young next gen downhillers riding the same trails as their hero (Social Distortion in the background) was super inspiring!
  • 1 0
 Why there is geoblocking on Google Play? Shouldn't this be available all over the world... Little disappointed by that and what is the point anyway to limit the audience when most people have VPN anyway...
  • 1 0
 I had the same issue with that link. But if you go to the Play Store directly and search for Long Live Chainsaw it's available.
  • 2 0
 Amazing rendition of an unbelievable kid who dared to dream. And had the heart to see it through. You will always be missed Stevie! Long live Chainsaw!
  • 1 0
 I can't even read this review without crying a bit.
Never met the man, but the impact he had was immeasurable maybe.
Canadian or otherwise, it's hard not to be a fan as Stevie was a rare and unique soul.
#longlivechainsaw
  • 1 0
 Purchased and watched it last night with the Mrs. Just a great film. Great to re-live that 2013 season and hear from his closest family, friends, and competitors. Stevie's influence lives on.
  • 3 2
 I said to him: Use the Force! And next thing you know he won it! I can only remember screaming and crying of joy that day! What a great moment that was!
  • 1 0
 This is prob the best movie/documentary i have ever seen. I lost a good friend this year i met riding bikes. just tugged on all the heart strings man. long live chainsaw
  • 2 0
 Watching it this weekend with my 8yr old son. Poor boy's gonna have to see the old man cry...
  • 1 0
 This is why I am always looking at those devinci DH rigs.. what a story, true legend
  • 1 0
 so inspiring... hard to watch until the end. Thanks for eveything Stevie, we miss you man.
  • 1 0
 Didn’t wanna watch the end knowing what was coming. Such a rad film, so pumped to see mtb gaining speed in Nanaimo.
  • 1 0
 Just watched this. My wife said are you crying. I said YES. Great film, long live the Chainsaw.
  • 1 0
 How can we watch it in France? It's geoblocked on google...
  • 2 0
 Get a VPN.
  • 2 0
 Search for it in the store vs using the link. It seems there is not a universal link that works for every country but if you go to the store it shows up.
  • 2 0
 Don`t follow the Link. Just go on Amazon, Itunes, Vimeo.... I´m from germany and I watched it on Amazon
  • 1 0
 @Patrick-Sturm: Yeah, but you need to have a prime account?
  • 1 0
 Kid had it ALL...GB Stevie..LONG LIVE CHAINSAW!!!
  • 1 0
 Absolutely incredible. Can’t wait to watch it again and again.
  • 1 0
 Amazing movie. Point blank period.
  • 1 0
 What a life - Long Live Chainsaw
  • 1 0
 Outstanding!!!
  • 1 0
 sweet
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