Hitting the Road with Jay

One of the best parts of any road trip is looking back at where you’ve been

Having just returned from a month spent travelling across Canada with Jay Baruchel, I can honestly say I know both the Canadian comedy icon and our diverse country a whole lot better.

Of course, this was a virtual road trip, considering the circumstances. There was no Airstream trailer, not even an old station wagon packed with ketchup chips, CAA maps and dirty laundry. Just a whole bunch of great Canadian TV and cinema, a Twitter account and a desire to see our land through the eyes of some visionary Canadian filmmakers.

And we weren’t alone.

While safely distancing himself with his wife and pets in their Toronto home, Baruchel — star of This is the End, voice of the How to Train Your Dragon movies, co-creator and star of the Goon pics — took us all on a trip across Canada by sharing great Canadian TV and films, west to east, on Twitter at the invitation of Made/Nous, an initiative that celebrates Canadian content and collaborated with Baruchel on the choices. At the same time, Baruchel’s Goon co-star, Marc-André Grondin, did the same in French.

About 1.4 million people tuned in at some point and the posts inspired more than 5,000 reactions on Twitter, including from Canada’s Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, Executive Director of the Indigenous Screen Office Jesse Wente and film critic Jesse Wente, Mr. D star Gerry Dee, Blood Quantum director Jeff Barnaby, Corner Gas stars Tara Spencer-Nairn and Gabrielle Miller, and Baruchel’s old pal, Letterkenny co-creator and star Jacob Tierney.

Starting in Igloolik, Nunavut, on April 1st with Zacharias Kunuk’s profoundly moving Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, and ending in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on April 30th with Stephen Dunn’s gay coming-of-age drama Closet Monster, each day (except for April 20th, when the road trip paused after the tragic events in Nova Scotia) Baruchel offered up one film or TV show to turn followers onto Canadian content.

Recommendations included well-known Canadian classics like Michael Dowse’s Calgary-set, mullet-infused mockumentary FUBAR (“Canadian iconography at its finest,” according to Jay), and others that are more obscure, like the Depression-era, Saskatchewan-set Drylanders (“Bleak, pessimistic and black & white, this film is the opposite of a Tim Hortons commercial in every possible way”). And yes, both Goon pics made Jay’s list, but for good reason — minor league hockey + pugilism + romance = some damn fine Canadiana.

There are few Canadian filmmakers, if any, who are bigger boosters of our movie and TV industry than Baruchel. The guy famously has a maple leaf tattooed over his heart. So, it was completely genuine when he told Ben Mulroney on CTV’s Your Morning, “If we get one person turned onto a bit of Canadian cinema they didn’t know was there before then I would have done my job.”

After Baruchel worked with the terrific Made/Nous team on the picks, followers began sharing their own favourites on Twitter, creating what the filmmaker called a “cool conversation.”

“I’m getting to see movies that I hadn’t seen, too,” he said. “So, the list that we’re putting up there is equal parts movies that are important to me, that I feel obligated to show the world, and movies that Made recommended that, for whatever reason, I hadn’t gotten the chance to see.”

Personally, my favourite discovery was the 1974 horror Black Christmas. Sure, I’d heard of it, and I’d seen the disappointing 2006 and 2019 remakes, but thanks to Jay I finally watched the original. Now I get it. The 1974 version is an effective slasher with a well-handled twist ending. (Trust me, you will not see it coming!) I also had no idea that Yellowknife was the birthplace of one of the film’s young stars, Margot Kidder.

When all of this is over my hope is that this virtual journey will not only have inspired Canadians to discover so many gems among their own TV and cinema, but that they’ll get out on the road and discover the cities, towns, cultures and people that inspired these works of art, too, and that, in turn, will inspire more great film and television about this place we call home.

Missed the trip? You can still catch a ride at @BaruchelNDG or check out the list here:

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
Angry Inuk
Margot Kidder/Black Christmas
Dawson City: Frozen in Time
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open
Cold Pursuit
Under Arrest (TV Series)
Birth of a Family
Goon/Goon: Last of the Enforcers
Letterkenny (TV series)
Dark Side of the Ring (series – Crave)
Last Night
Operation Avalanche
L’Affaire Dumont
Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance
The Trotsky
Station 10
Bon Cop, Bad Cop
Rhymes for Young Ghouls
Dog Pound
Trailer Park Boys (TV Series)
Mr. D (TV series)
There’s Something in the Water
Road to Avonlea (TV series)
The Viking
Closet Monster