How the director of the new MuchMusic documentary observed gold in a treasure trove of archives

How the director of the new MuchMusic documentary observed gold in a treasure trove of archives
Filmmaker Sean Menard poses for a portrait in the Much Music archives at 299 Queen Street West in Toronto.
Filmmaker Sean Menard poses for a portrait in the A lot New music archives at 299 Queen Road West in Toronto, on Wed., March 1, 2023. (Christopher Katsarov Luna)

When it was initial introduced previously this 12 months that a new documentary about Canada’s MuchMusic would be building its planet premiere at South by Southwest (SXSW) competition this week in Austin, Texas, quite a few ended up eager to know irrespective of whether Ed the Sock appears in the film.

He does in truth, confirms 299 Queen Road West director Sean Menard around the mobile phone. But he clarifies that the Canadian icon — a vulgar, cigar-smoking cigarettes sock puppet that turned a staple of the music television channel in the 1990s — was not amongst his true interviewees. Named for its deal with at what is now the Bell Media making, the two-hour film chronicles the origins and heyday of “the Nation’s Songs Station,” for the duration of which time a team of resourceful and somewhat inexperienced on-digital camera presenters ushered Canada by means of the tunes movie boom and further than.

Menard chooses MuchMusic’s previous VJs as his most important storytellers, treating us to a swath of acquainted faces from Canadian media — George Stroumboulopoulos, Nam Kiwanuka, Rick Campanelli, and much more. Or rather, familiar voices: as an alternative of splicing traditional speaking heads into contemporaneous footage of the channel, Menard — who was also the film’s editor — allows his subjects’ recollections participate in more than that footage, wanting viewers to “reside in the house and the planet of the archives.” 

A vividly colourful illustration by artist Al Runt of of characters filling the building at 299 Queen Street West.
Marketing artwork by Al Runt for the documentary 299 Queen Avenue West. (Al Runt/

Like numerous Canadians of a specific age, the director — who was lifted in Hamilton, Ontario, and now lives in Toronto — says he grew up “observing the channel religiously,” and joked to quite a few of the VJs he labored with that they’d far more or less been his babysitters. The documentary is typically involved with the 1990s and early 2000s, soon after MuchMusic had come of age but just before it — as with other in the same way-minded models — suffered dwindling ratings in the digital period. (Considering that 2021, the channel has existed as a TikTok model.) 

Of program, MuchMusic’s story experienced started back in 1984 — the similar year Menard was born — and the director promptly identified himself unnerved by how minimal he realized about the channel’s history prior to his time put in glued to it as a teen. He states he was transparent with any VJs he’d only been launched to by way of the exploration process — which include original jockeys Erica Ehm, who eventually turned a consulting producer on the film, and Michael Williams, who hosted and routinely broke new artists via hip hop- and rap-oriented plans like RapCity.

Menard finally spun his information hole into the film’s mission. “Some of the VJs would convey to me they truly feel like they are overlooked,” he clarifies, recalling his very first espresso store assembly with Williams. “I was like, ‘I did not know who you had been right before this. My good friends don’t know who you are. The artists that you assisted make that now assist impact the present artists, all those have been overlooked. So which is why you want to do this project with me.'”

One thing that had constantly been very clear was MuchMusic’s tastemaking electrical power, exterior of Canada as a great deal as in it. “Each time I would go to The united states, I would be in a rental vehicle and the radio would be on, and there would be Canadian artist immediately after Canadian artist just after Canadian artist,” claims Menard. “You start to know, How does a put with such a little population have so numerous worldwide stars? And you can really attribute it back to the channel.”

Irrespective of this legacy, he experienced difficulty securing fiscal backers for his film. Just after 6 decades of mixed luck, he “made the decision to just forge ahead and finance it” himself, operating mostly with creating husband or wife Molly Ye. With the assist of Bell Media’s individual archivists and what Menard calls the “YouTube radicals” who’ve collected and preserved tons of related footage, the duo pulled the main of the story together in a couple of months — an “arduous” system, the director admits with a chuckle — followed by a different 50 percent a year filling in any gaps.

Apart from wanting to do the VJs and their stories justice, Menard states that he sought to replicate the encounter of essentially seeing MuchMusic throughout its heyday — the simmering strength of a roomful of smartphone-cost-free adolescents hanging on a pop sensation’s each term, for instance. It appears like he was thriving to that finish, provided how usually he apparently caught himself smiling whilst in the enhancing area. As he puts it, “If you are a supporter of audio, it can be going to be quite unlikely that you really don’t really love this movie.”

Enter SXSW, which originated as a local audio festival back again in 1987 — in other phrases, all-around the similar time as MuchMusic. In a exceptional about-the-cellphone (as opposed to e mail) acceptance, festival director Claudette Godfrey explained to Menard that his movie reminded her of SXSW’s early days, equally anarchic in state of mind and operate by its very own ragtag squad.

“Somebody saw this in the heap and put it apart and flagged it, and it labored its way up the chain,” he describes of the programming system. “That reminds me of how film festivals utilized to do the job, back in the working day wherever mysterious administrators were uncovered that way.”

To be crystal clear, Menard is just not all that unknown: “I feel it helped that my last movie experienced Drake and LeBron James as executive producers,” he suggests, referring to 2017’s The Carter Outcome, a documentary about previous Toronto Raptor Vince Carter that premiered at TIFF. But SXSW is offering him the welcome probability to break out of the sporting activities-documentary bubble — 299 Queen Avenue West is his 1st and only non-sports job in a decade — which he’s observed as professionally restricting as it has been handy. 

“When I would test and pitch creation companies or financiers or producers or talent agents, all people just kept coming back to wanting to maintain me in a box,” Menard points out. That claimed, he stresses that this latest film isn’t really as drastic a leap as it may possibly seem on paper, aligned with his other people in its target on “human beings doing extraordinary matters.”

Filmmaker Sean Menard poses for a portrait in the Much Music archives at 299 Queen Street West in Toronto.
Filmmaker Sean Menard poses for a portrait in the Significantly Music archives at 299 Queen Street West in Toronto, on Wed., March 1, 2023. (Christopher Katsarov Luna)

As for the on-paper ambitiousness of these types of a Canada-centric story building waves in Austin? “To me, this is a international story,” the director insists. “This is just as attention-grabbing as if it took position in New Zealand — it just so occurred to be at 299 Queen Road West. You can find this larger tale that I believe men and women can relate to all over the earth, which is the progress and evolution of new music.”

However, he’d enjoy to convey items residence someday later on the competition circuit, potentially at the TIFF Bell Lightbox — a stone’s toss from the documentary’s titular address, exactly where it would be comparatively quick to gather all of his topics onstage for some perfectly-deserved applause.

“This is bigger than MuchMusic to me,” Menard suggests of the task as a entire. “This is about preserving and telling the story of Canadian music historical past, in a way that I had never ever noticed instructed.”