Goin’ Down the Road – again

Cherry Beach served as an ersatz Atlantic Ocean for scenes in Down the Road Again.

Back in 1969 there was no motion picture industry to speak of in Toronto, but a young director from the East End was determined to make a feature film on a shoestring budget. Donald Shebib even sold his car to help scrape up $27,000. Goin’ Down the Road (1970) became a landmark classic of Canadian cinema. Four decades later Shebib has crafted a wonderful follow-up, Down the Road Again, which revisits the same characters at a very different stage of life.

Shebib insists the new film “is not really a sequel,” but “it makes the original a better film” by explaining some long ago events.

“It’s about redemption for Pete and for Joey. Pete revisits his past with the death of his friend.” The actor who played Joey, Paul Bradley, passed away in 2003.

“It was a very emotional experience for all of us making the film,” says the director.

Cameraman Richard Leiterman also died in 2005. East York resident, Cayle Chernin, who plays Selina in both movies, died in February, 2011. While filming in Toronto last October, Chernin didn’t tell any cast mates that she had cancer. She put off chemo treatment so that she could finish the film and died at Toronto East General Hospital. Jayne Eastwood (Betty) credits Chernin with persuading Shebib to set off down the road again.

Donald Shebib was born in Toronto in 1938, the son of Maritimers. He grew up enchanted by movies at his favourite “nabe”, the Ideal on Main St. north of Gerrard. After attending UCLA’s Film School, he returned to Canada to make documentaries. His most renowned film, Goin’ Down the Road, showed a raw, gritty Yonge Street in its neon heyday of bright lights and broken dreams.

The Toronto skyline has changed dramatically since Pete (Doug McGrath) and Joey (Bradley) rolled along Richmond Street in their blue 1960 Chevy convertible with flames and ‘My Nova Scotia Home’ hand-painted on the side. Goin’ Down the Road was the first time everyone saw Toronto up there on the big screen: Allen Gardens, Zanzibar Tavern, A & A Records, Old City Hall, the Islands and Scarborough Bluffs.

“You practically saw the whole city,” adds Shebib.

Down the Road Again is a very different film, full of sentiment and emotion. It’s about relationships, forgiveness, second chances, and aging. Time changes us all. In grainy flashbacks, we see reckless Pete and Joey fooling around atop Cathedral Bluffs. Like the cliffs, memories have eroded. Forty years on, an older, wiser Pete sits on a park bench near the Bluffs, knowing that when life got tough, he and his buddy had cut and run.

Touching scenes of regret and reunion were filmed at Cherry Beach, Enoch Turner Schoolhouse and at a ‘Cape Breton’ house with a lovely garden.

Shebib feels “he had to find a way to keep Joey’s spirit alive,” and Down the Road Again carries Joey with us for the whole journey. It may be painful, but you can go home again.


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