From snowboarding to Carts of Darkness 

Former Whistlerite explores preconceptions of homelessness and disability

click to enlarge Hot Wheels Big Al and a friend take to the streets of North Vancouver in their shopping carts. Photo by Scott Pommier
  • Hot Wheels Big Al and a friend take to the streets of North Vancouver in their shopping carts. Photo by Scott Pommier

“Big Al” careens down the road at speeds of up to 67 km/h, deftly negotiating potholes, cars and other obstacles with his sneakered feet, while drivers stop to honk and cheer him on. But this thrill seeker isn’t on a skateboard or a bike, he’s practicing a unique brand of extreme sport: shopping cart riding.

Big Al is just one of the subjects of Murray Siple’s new film, Carts of Darkness, which explores the culture of bottle picking, homelessness, and disability, with a bit of adrenaline and humour thrown in.

Originally from Kamloops, Siple studied filmmaking at Emily Carr College, and moved to Whistler in 1992 to make full-length snowboard and skateboard films. An avid mountain biker, skateboarder and snowboarder, Siple lived the Whistler lifestyle for four years before he was involved in a serious car accident that broke his neck and left him confined to a wheelchair.

The accident transformed Siple’s life.

“I missed traveling the most — that was the biggest thing for me,” said Siple. “Even in the snowboarding days in Whistler, I rarely was in town for more than a month-long stretch. I was always in another part of the world, wherever there was snow or something, so as soon as I ended up in the hospital, it was like jail.”

It took him almost four years to learn to live life from a wheelchair, and he devoted another few years to building an accessible home in North Vancouver. It would be almost 10 years before he tried his hand at filmmaking again.

“Obviously I wasn’t going to go back to snowboarding and skateboarding movies, because I actually snowboarded and skateboarded myself, so I felt connected to it and wasn’t going to try and pretend I was in touch with the sport from a wheelchair,” Siple said. “…But my training wasn’t making snowboard and skateboard videos, it was any film and video, and I knew that, so I just had to get the strength back to make another type of movie as soon as I could find one, and it turned out to be Carts of Darkness.”

Siple ended up stumbling across the subjects for his film at his local grocery store. They were returning bottles right beside the wheelchair parking spot.

“When I approached them for their permission to interview them, they said that I should be filming them riding these shopping carts. I thought that they were just joking, pulling my leg to see if they could get some beer out of me or something,” said Siple.

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