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Rambo 'superfans' descend on Hope
Just as darkness fell on Saturday night, a jumbo movie screen lit up Wallace Street in downtown Hope.
With the street closed to all traffic, the asphalt quickly became a patchwork of blankets and lawn chairs. Families, friends, co-workers, film buffs, documentary filmmakers, and world travelers all gathered for one purpose — to watch a special anniversary screening of Rambo: First Blood.
For some, it would be the first time watching the 1982 Sylvester Stallone classic. For others, watching the movie has become more than just a way to pass the time. It's become a way of life.
They are the Rambo 'super fans,' and many of them came thousands of miles to take part in the four-day Rambo extravaganza, celebrating 30 years since the movie's first release.
Oliver Wegner is arguably one of Rambo's biggest super fans, and an ardent cheerleader for the town of Hope.
His website (www.rambotown.net) carefully chronicles his three previous trips to Hope, where much of Rambo was filmed back in 1981. He writes lovingly about the people he's met, and the adventures he's had through the years here.
This weekend marked the fourth time he's made the emotional pilgrimage from his home in Germany. His first trip was in 2004, then 2006, and lastly 2007. Each time, he met locals with an interest in the movie, including Inge Wilson from Destination Hope, and Brian McKinney from Hell's Gate Airtram. He eventually met Seattle-based documentary filmmaker, Damon Shelton, and was featured in his film Reel Places: First Blood — which was also shown on the big screen Saturday night.
Wegner's absolute love for all things Rambo, and Hope, were on full display at the screening.
"I would like to be buried here," he confessed, as John Rambo's story of violent revenge unfolded on the screen in front of him. He said he fell in love with the movie long ago. It's the man vs. himself theme that he can relate to. But it's also the moving music of composer Jerry Goldsmith, combined with the rugged beauty of British Columbia's landscape, that pulled him even closer into the film.
"When I'm feeling emotions, they are right there on the screen," he said.
When asked if he would rather chat after the film, however, he said it would be okay to miss it.
"I've seen it 400, maybe 450 times, already," he joked.
He wonders why everyone isn't a Rambo super fan, and hopes that the town's businesses continue to see the opportunity in promoting its connection to the film.
"You have a treasure here," he said, gesturing with wide arms toward the screen. In total, he estimates he has spent about $8,000 visiting Hope and the surrounding area.
Wegner was in good company this weekend, with many people traveling specifically to Hope from countries like England and Japan.
This was Keiichi Nishikubo's first time visiting Hope, from Japan. He and his wife spent a week in town, taking in the Rambo events.
A long-time Rambo fan, he had heard about Hope when he read a story online about the Rambo bridge being demolished.
"I wanted to come to that, but then heard about the 30th anniversary and had to decide," he said.
On Wednesday he told the Observer he is already planning his next visit.
"I did enjoy being at Hope with warm local people and Rambo guns from around the world," he wrote in an email, just before departing from Vancouver International. "I will be back in 2017 for (the) 35th anniversary."
This isn't the first time Hope has rallied together to celebrate Rambo, Inge Wilson said.
There was a 25th anniversary, and immediately afterward, fans were asking when the next milestone would be marked.
And on this 30th anniversary, they're already asking again.
"We're getting really good feedback," she said. "I'm being stopped by local people saying it was a really great event."
When Hollywood came calling back in 1981, it literally transformed Hope.
Sylvester Stallone was already a huge name, having broke through on the big screen with his self-penned Rocky role.
About 550 hopefuls came out to play as extras in the film. Some of them were successful, and Wilson said a few were in the crowds on Saturday night.
The one Hope woman who had a speaking role passed away last year, however.
Amy Alexander had one line in the film, greeting the sheriff as he walked in a room.
And of course, many people had the chance to speak with Steven Chang, the only speaking-role actor who made it out to the screening.
Chang played the Viet Cong officer who beat John Rambo in a flashback, early in the film. He watched the movie from the patio of the Blue Moose Cafe.
Several businesses got on board with the Rambo celebrations. While some were selling t-shirts and naming their specials after Rambo, others were encouraging their guests to visit dressed like the iconic film character.
At Hell's Gate, the annual pumpkin drop had a Rambo theme. Many visitors, including babies in strollers, were dressed in the red headband, army clothes, and some even sported bullet vests.