Few people have had a better front-row view of the Tragically Hip’s rock ‘n’ roll journey than Mike Downie. But as he set out to make the “definitive documentary” on the band, the brother of late frontman Gord Downie says he found that even he didn’t have the full story.
The filmmaker will direct a documentary series chronicling the Hip’s ascent from high school band to Canadian musical icons. The untitled project was announced Wednesday as part of Amazon Prime Video’s slate of original Canadian productions.
The four-part series is set to be released in the fall of 2024 to mark the 40th anniversary of the band’s formation in Kingston, Ont., Mike Downie said.
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As he prepares for production to start after a year in development, Downie said he’s already been surprised by how much he had to learn about the Hip despite being at the band’s side since its inception.
“You think you know a story, but you’ve known it passively in a way,” he said in a video interview from Toronto. “And yet, it’s interesting when you start to scratch the surface a little deeper how much more information there is.”
The documentary has turned his lens on the Hip before in the 1993 concert tour film Hexenketel and in 2018’s Find the Secret Pathwhich followed Gord Downie’s efforts to bring attention to the dark history of Canada’s residential schools the year before he died of brain cancer in 2017.
When the Hip’s longtime manager, Jake Gold, approached him about making the “definitive documentary” on the band, Mike Downie said he didn’t hesitate to say yes.
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As a member of the band’s “big family,” he didn’t have much trouble bringing key players on board. He said he’s already uncovered revelations about the Hip’s origins through pre-interviews with members of the band and its progenitors.
He’s been building up the band’s archives to find never-before-seen videos, recordings and photos that are set to be featured in the series, even enlisting the help of two Hip-obsessed “rock ‘n’ roll detectives” to hunt down new material.
The research process has at times been emotional, Downie said. He and his younger brother have been going through Gord Downie’s journals dating back to the early 1980s, and in some entries, you can feel his presence on the page.
“When I’m reading those, and some of what he’s writing down in this stream of consciousness, he seems very close, very close.”
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The documentary will feature interviews with a number of prominent Hip fans (he wouldn’t name names) to help unpack why so many Canadians saw themselves in a Kingston-based alt-rock band, he added.
He sees the Hip’s arc as part of a broader Canadian story – one that starts with bright hopes of something better, but through triumph and tragedy, lands in a place that’s darker but more true.
“I am interested in charting that development over the life of the band, and the trajectory of a country,” he said.
“I see an evolution that tracks in an interesting way between a group of small-town guys from Kingston heading out and not only finding a way to tell their story, but to tell perhaps a larger story.”
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