When Toronto’s garbage workers went on strike last year, a lot of people found their summer plans scuttled — including director Bruce McDonald, who had hoped to film a much-anticipated Broken Social Scene concert on Toronto Island.
When the show got cancelled, McDonald figured the project was dead, too. “We thought we would just walk away," he says. “Since the idea was to do just do a film about the band and its core members, we figured we could just do it another time, pick it up in a year or so and try again.”
But when Broken Social Scene announced a free make-up show at Harbourfront, McDonald and screenwriter Don McKellar decided to act fast, reimagining the project as a dramatic feature informed by the band’s music. The result, This Movie is Broken, is a hybridized concert film that integrates dramatic material.
As the film opens, Toronto hipster Bruno (Greg Calerdone) has finally consummated his long-standing crush on childhood sweetheart Caroline (Georgina Reilly).
The remainder of their first day as a couple is intercut with footage from the Harbourfront performance, with the music serving as counterpoint to the action until the characters actually arrive at the concert.
“Most of the band didn’t even know that there was a movie being made until they walked on stage and saw those giant cameras,” laughs McDonald. “I think that it was going to be a special show anyway, because the whole group, with all its members, hadn’t been together like that for six years. I think some people might have gotten intimidated in that situation, thinking that they have to really go all out because it’s being recorded for the ages, or whatever, but they were fine. We didn’t really make our presence all that known, and gave them room to do their thing.”
The music is mostly terrific, but ultimately, This Movie is Broken is as much a document of a city as it is of a band.
“It’s a bit of a love letter to Toronto,” admits McDonald. “I grew up here, the band grew up here, and the city has been really good to us. There’s this rich vein of great artists in many disciplines. We didn’t want to hide the fact that this was our town.”