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Eating Buccaneers: Spoofing advertisers' worst qualities

Leah Pinsent and her partner Peter Keleghan pose for a portrait in Toronto on October 6, 2009.

JENNIFER ROBERTS/jennifer roberts The Globe and Mail

In the upcoming comedy, Eating Buccaneers , a narcissistic group of type-A advertising executives subsist - after surviving a plane crash in Canada's north - on a box of chocolate bars.

In the low-budget Canadian film, the actors (which include Peter Keleghan and his wife and co-star Leah Pinsent) hoard the Buccaneer bars jealously, as the days spent stranded in the woods stretch into a week.

It's clear now, however, that the cast had their fill of the gooey, corner-store confection a long time ago. "Don't eat one," advised Keleghan, 50, recently, pointing to a bunch of Buccaneer bars that have been scattered on a table in a downtown Toronto office. "I think they're at least two years old," he adds.

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I got paid with potato chips and jujubes. It was very low-budget. Peter Keleghan

The time frame is about right, given that Eating Buccaneers , the feature-film directorial debut of long-time Toronto ad guy Bill Keenan, wrapped two summers ago. It has since won an indie film comedy honourable mention at the Just for Laughs Film Festival in Chicago and gained a nomination for best direction at the Long Island International Film Festival. Now it is finally making it to the big screen in Toronto Friday, with hopes of rolling out in other Canadian cities in the coming weeks.

Shot on a shoestring budget in a flurry of 18 days, the comedy is described as a labour of love for Keenan (his best-known work may be the classic "It was a rainy day in Pizzaville" radio campaign), who long had the idea in his head of a survival film based on the neurotic folks in the vainglorious world of advertising. ("Nobody is gonna search for us," mumbles the copy writer. "We're in advertising.") Besides Keleghan and Pinsent, the film also features Shannon Beckner, Neil Crone, Steven McCarthy and Jeff White, with a special appearance by Pinsent's dad, Gordon, who pops in unexpectedly as a weathered trapper covered in natty fur pelts.

"In the film, it looks as if we're miles and miles from civilization," says Leah Pinsent, laughing, who plays a hippie art director in flowing skirts and increasingly bedraggled blond hair. "In reality, we shot the entire forest scene in York region, right off the [Highway]404."

In the movie - which is billed as " The Office meets Lord of the Flies" - Keleghan plays a self-absorbed account vice-president, a role he figures he's hard-wired to do. "I was doing a commercial with Bill years ago, and he said he'd written this script, and had a part that was perfect for me. Given that the title of my autobiography is probably going to be something like 'Idiots and Assholes [I Have Played]' I agreed with him I'd be ideal," quips the Montreal-born actor, whose other roles include the anchor Jim Walcott in Ken Finkleman's The Newsroom , CEO Alan Roy in Rick Mercer's Made in Canada and George Costanza's nemesis, Lloyd Braun, in Seinfeld .

Both he and Pinsent describe the experience of making this film as a privilege - albeit a somewhat penurious one. "I got paid with potato chips and jujubes," jokes Keleghan. "It was very low-budget. But Bill got everybody, including his friends and dentist, to invest in the film - which is the greatest thing because it's more like the American system of how movies get made: It's private money rather than looking for government handouts."

For her part, Pinsent, 41, said she signed up because it gave her a chance to embrace a role vastly different from many she's played in the past. "Bill had only seen me in the Made in Canada /Ken Finkleman stuff. I don't know if he was sure I could play a flower child - an innocent, vulnerable, artsy woman. So I had to convince him. But Vanessa [the art director]is closer to me than any character I've played before. I have a tendency to be gullible and I am also a klutz - something I inherited from my father."

Gordon Pinsent's cameo in the film was something of a fluke, an idea hatched by Keleghan 24 hours before the trio drove up to Algonquin Park, where the film shot for one day.

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"My dad often likes to come on vacation with us, so we'd invited him along," recounts Leah. But before heading out of town, Keleghan popped into the Goodwill store on Queen Street and gathered some threadbare clothes. The cast rummaged up the mangy pelts. And Pinsent walked onset, leaving hikers who happened to be walking through the park stunned.

"Gordon comes in at the 11th hour, and everyone's like, 'Oh my God, it's Gordon Pinsent,'" says Keleghan, rolling his eyes. "And he gets free lunch."

Both Leah Pinsent and her husband of eight years readily acknowledge that the real challenge facing Eating Buccaneers, as an independent Canadian film, will be getting screen time. "It's enough to drive me to distraction, and it's a fight both Leah and I have been fighting for years - and Gordon's been fighting since the 1960s," says Keleghan.

"One of the best things Gordon ever said was that you don't have to wave the Canadian flag and stamp something Canadian for it to be content. You just have to put it out there. I just hope we get the chance."

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