Bloor West Villager
Filmmaker Don Shebib’s 1970 release Goin’ Down the Road is a Canadian classic that offers a snapshot of Toronto’s history at the tail end of the hippie revolution.
Yet during filming, its director never could have imagined the impact it would have.
“I think the film worked pretty good. It had its share of flaws, but the acting was terrific,” Shebib told The Villager over the phone from his Parkside Drive home on Aug. 9. “I had been making documentary films for about seven or eight years – I wanted to try my hand at a feature film. I didn’t expect it to have such a big effect or audience that it has had.”
Goin’ Down the Road is the story of two unemployed friends, Peter and Joey, from the Maritimes who embark on a road trip from their hometown of Cape Breton to Toronto where they’re hoping relatives can hook them up with jobs. When things don’t go according to plan, the guys find themselves left to their own devices working minimum wage jobs ($2 at the time) at a bottle factory and a car wash. Complicating matters, Joey gets his girlfriend pregnant and the guys must move in together.
The low-budget film was made for about $87,000 – less than what most current productions pay for craft services, says Toronto movie critic Geoff Pevere. Pevere’s new book, Donald Shebib’s Goin’ Down the Road, explores how such a low-budget film, which “looks rough” according to its director, could resonate with so many people to become the Canadian icon that it is.
Pevere writes, “In some respects, it’s our belated Birth of a Nation, our westward-ho(ser) Stagecoach and our blue-collar Easy Rider all packed into one beat up, hundred-buck convertible Impala.”
Both Pevere and Shebib will be at the Revue Cinema on Tuesday, Aug. 21 for a special installment of the series ‘The Book Revue,’ which Pevere hosts. The event begins with a book launch reception at 5:30 p.m. at the theatre followed by a screening of the movie along with its 2011 sequel.
Tuesday’s Book Revue is co-presented by the University of Toronto Press and the Toronto International Film Festival, which jointly published the book as part of the Canadian Cinema series. The event is also made possible by Union Pictures, which has just released a digital restoration of the 1970s movie, which will be shown for the first time at the Revue that night.
Pevere says he has a vague recollection of first seeing the movie on TV as a teenager and remembers being aware that this was a film people were talking about.
“I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. It looked like a rough documentary,” he recalled.
After taking a course on Canadian film in university, Pevere came to realize that Goin’ Down the Road was “a very strong, powerful, honest and emotional film about two down-and-out Maritimers trying to find success in Toronto and not succeeding.”
“This movie constantly came up again and again. I came to fully appreciate it. It captured something really unique about living in Canada, in a city in Canada – more specifically about living in Toronto at that time,” said Pevere.
The Toronto depicted in the film no longer exists, he said. The neighbourhoods that were once working class now are gentrified.
“The film is a record of a time in this city’s history,” said Pevere.
Pevere and Shebib will discuss the film at the Book Revue. The cost of the launch event is $20 for Revue members and seniors; $26 for non-members. For the films and reception only: $10 for members/seniors for one film; $13 for non-members. Add $4 for the second film.