|If youve ever bombed along the Trans-Canada Highway heading southeast from Calgary to Medicine Hat, you probably havent been captivated by your surroundings. Mostly flat, with little in the way of inspiring scenery, this stretch of the "Number 1" is hardly the stuff of high adventure. Still, its significant as part of our national highway, the long and winding road with many a tale to tell.
A collection of those stories are presented in the new documentary film The Longest Road, debuting on the History Channel this Canada Day. From people involved in the design and construction of the Trans-Canada to failed motel owners, authors, a well-traveled carnie and a wandering Hare Krishna monk, The Longest Road features a great many perspectives.
"In Canada, we dont have this collective nostalgia about the Trans-Canada Highway, but when you sit people down on their own, everyone has got a story," says the films producer, David Schultz.
"When I am showing (the film) to friends and peers, they keep talking though it. Theyll see things like the cottage country story with Bert Brown, the hundred-year-old guy that has the Browns Motel, and thatll remind them of a hitch-hiking or motel story they have."
Calgarians Schultz and his director/partner Kevin Alexander are the driving forces behind The Longest Road, a film project that turned into a mammoth two-year undertaking.
"I dont think we realized what we were in for," says Schultz. "We spent 1,100 hours editing I have done a feature film and two series and we never spent that much time editing. Our shooting ratio was 100 to one for every one minute (in the film) we had 100 minutes of footage."
The arduous six-month nationwide shoot required plenty of travel. Schultz estimates that he must have covered 15,000 miles himself. "All these people arent lined up from east coast to west waiting for you to interview them, so theres lots of back and forth."
The Longest Road is a production partnership between the National Film Board of Canada and Schultzs own Interstate 80 Entertainment. It is also his third documentary collaboration with Alexander, who is so elusive that some people have questioned his existence.
"You know, I go to Banff (for the recent television festival) and people say There is no such person as Kevin Alexander, hes really a synonym for you," says Schultz, who describes Alexander as a very shy man. "Hes not mister one-liner like I am. We started out together. We went to film school together at SAIT in 1984. I got kicked out, he didnt."
However, Schultz credits Alexander as "the idea guy." "Hes got brilliant ideas. Hes a very smart man." He then quips, "Im the guy who raises the money that he tries to spend in two days."
Where Alexander would like to point his camera next is in the Lone Star state, where he wants to film a history of Peacock records and Texas Blues, a subject often overshadowed by the well-known Delta Blues associated with Chicago. Schultz knows getting financing for such a regionalized, let alone American, documentary subject wont be an easy proposition for a couple of Calgary guys, but with his trademark determination, he predicts the film will go ahead.
Schultzs career has included the writing and directing of feature films, most notably Jet Boy (2001), but he finds wearing the producers hat on documentary pictures an experience second to none. "The documentaries have always been exceptionally great life experiences," he says.
The Longest Road instilled in him a great sense of empowerment. "If you can raise over a half a million dollars to make a movie on the Trans-Canada Highway, then anything else is going to be a lot easier."
The 70-minute cut of The Longest Road will be followed up next year by a 90-minute feature-length version on A Channel. One can imagine that the longer edition will feature the breathtaking plains between Calgary and Medicine Hat footage that is noticeably absent in the current cut. Then again, its probably best if it doesnt.
The Longest Road debuts on Tuesday, July 1 at 10 p.m. on the History Channel.