Format: 35mm Black & White
Runtime: 80 min
Mr. Shack Motion Pictures Ltd.
Bruce McDonald's Roadkill is one of the key films in what has come to be known as the Toronto New Wave. An odyssey of spiritual self-discovery and loud music, Roadkill follows trails blazed by maverick filmmakers such as Jim Jarmusch, Robert Frank and Wim Wenders, but the sensibility behind the wheel is unequivocally Canadian. The film is fuelled by both a distinctly familiar inferiority complex — a would-be serial killer explains that most people think his chosen field is “an American thing” — and McDonald’s deliberate efforts to romanticize the Canadian landscape. As he once argued in an interview, if Little Rock can be a mythical place, why can't Sudbury?
Ramona (Buhagiar), the timid assistant to a venal Toronto rock promoter (Quigley), inadvertently inherits an impossible mission: on her boss’s behalf, she is to travel to Northern Ontario to track down the band Children of Paradise who haven’t shown up for four gigs in a row. The film is constructed, on one level, as a parody of the classic Apocalypse Now — Ramona’s orders are to “terminate the tour with extreme prejudice.” The only real problem is that Ramona doesn’t know how to drive.
As is customary with such quests, the road matters more than the destination. Soon destitute and disenchanted, Ramona experiences a series of encounters with a gallery of cluckers: a pot-addled cab driver (Hudson) who claims to know “Mick”; a rock video crew led by a director (McDonald) with delusions of widescreen grandeur; and the aforementioned aspiring serial killer (McKellar, who also wrote the script) who cautions Ramona about the “weirdoes out there.” On these lonely, lunar roads, Ramona seems to meet practically everyone except the guys she’s gone to look for.
Roadkill contains the familiar McDonald obsessions. It’s liberally sprinkled with rock 'n' roll (American and Canadian) and references to it (it's a Who’s Who of Toronto rock from the late 1980s). And like all of his subsequent films, it riffs off the road movie structure. The film also established McDonald’s key theme: the complications of growing up and accepting responsibility.
Shot in black-and-white on an extremely low budget, McDonald’s feature debut gave the period a touch of hipster cool. Though very much a film of its time, Roadkill holds up well today, and in a lot of ways, could serve as a great template for low-budget filmmaking. It won the Citytv Award for best Canadian first feature at the 1989 Toronto Festival of Festivals, when McDonald solidified his reputation as English-Canadian cinema’s reigning bad boy by announcing at the press conference that he was going to spend the prize money on hash.