Canada represent, and this time in a BIG way! One of the festival highlights in covering the Canadian beat, the epic doc 299 QUEEN STREET WEST is a flat out love letter to MuchMusic, the music channel that started it all. I was so happy to attend the final screening at the Zach Theatre with the incredibly hard working director Sean Menard in attendance with him.
ABOUT: With unprecedented access to the MuchMusic archives, “299 Queen Street West” tells the story of a scrappy Canadian television upstart from the perspective of the VJ’s who at the time had no prior TV hosting experience, received no direction, no scripts and broadcasted live across the country. The channel’s rise in popularity intersected with rap music entering the mainstream, the birth of grunge and alternative rock and pop stars caused teenage hysteria at the iconic street level studio.
JASON’S REACTION: What I thought would be either a clip show or talking head documentary subtly turns out to be something much, much more (forgive the pun). This epic length does a complete dive into the famed music station that started in a small studio and then moved into the famous building location of its title, now the home to Crave/Bell Media and is right around the corner from one of my favourite Toronto International Film Festival venues.
The most fascinating aspect of this doc is how it showcases the importance and the power of the recorded interview. Throughout we see the progress of Erica Ehm, who started out as a receptionist and just jumped upwards into a major interviewer and also featuring talents like Rick The Temp, George Stroumboulopoulos and now filmmaker Sook Yin-Lee all in their prime as they did in-depth interviews with every major music talent coming in and out of Toronto. A wave of nostalgia swept over me as I grew up as a kid on Vancouver Island, BC and watched music videos and live performances out of Toronto and instantly made me a fan of the city.
MuchMusic eventually fizzled when YouTube and on-demand took over, and also when MTV switched their programming from music videos to reality TV as well attitudes of viewers all changed. I think a lot of it now exists in podcast format but seeing and listening to the live interview was a delicacy that this documentary covered in incredible detail. And like with the Mary Tyler Moore doc that showed at this festival, a very intelligent move was made where all of the people being interviewed are featured as voice-overs over the clips, and the movie has such an immersive feeling from it all.
It was revealed by director Sean Menard at the Q&A that there is now approval to digitize and release the entire Muchmusic catalog online, and you know I will be parked in front of my TV going through it all (I certainly can’t wait to see the Weird Al Yankovic. A huge thanks to Crave for supporting this project and no doubt it will air on the Canadian streamer down the road and I know it will definitely find some fans. This is one of the highlights of SxSW 2023!
This film and many others like it will be showing at South By Southwest taking place March 10-19. For more information point your browser to www.sxsw.com!