Rob Cohen was fed up. For more than two decades, as a Calgary-born comedy writer living and thriving in Hollywood, Cohen, 48, suffered his colleagues' ceaseless mockery and casual ignorance of all things Canadian. Even as fellow Canucks infiltrated the top ranks of the entertainment world, it seemed others simply refused to appreciate the majesty of our Mounties, the brilliance of The Beachcombers or the fact that most Canadians don't actually live in igloos. So Cohen (The Big Bang Theory) began interviewing fellow Canadians, a few Americans and assorted others in an investigation into the Canadian character. The resulting documentary, Being Canadian, has its world premiere at Hot Docs in Toronto Saturday, April 25. The Globe spoke with Cohen by phone.
How long has the film been in the works?
We started making it seven years ago, but would stop for huge gaps of time. We had day jobs, and we were also trying to schedule people in chunks, so if we had a bunch of people in New York, we would want to do one New York trip. I'd say the whole movie was made in probably two and a half years.
Which footage is from seven years ago – the stuff where Howie Mandel has hair?
Yeah, the Howie interview is an older one, the Ben Stiller is an older one. Obviously, the Barenaked Ladies is from when they were still together. They were here in L.A., playing at the Universal Amphitheatre; we grabbed them before a concert.
How was the film financed?
All self-funded, except for a small portion, which we did through Indiegogo. It's not a massive budget, that's why we had to keep our day jobs.
So, what – like, a few hundred thousand?
Sounds like your average Canadian film budget, then.
Exactly. We wanted to make it as Canadian as possible.
Did you think, 'Hey, maybe we should call up the National Film Board for some cash?'
I'm not being evasive, but we actually reached out to one organization, I can't remember who it was. We explained the movie, said it's made by Canadians, about Canada, called Being Canadian, and they told us it wasn't Canadian enough. We love that, and we were going to put that into our movie. And I was so pissed off, I wanted to go into the Hungarian Film Commission and have them give us some money, and put that in the movie, but I thought that might be a little too much of an F-U.
The film is structured around a 10-day road trip, beginning in Peggy's Cove, N.S., and ending in Vancouver on Canada Day, 2013. It's like a cross between Goin' Down the Road and a bunch of Heritage Minutes.
But – Oh, sorry …
No, I'm sorry.
No, go on.
Sorry. You know the movie Sherman's March? [That film] was the original trigger for this. I just love the simplicity of that documentary, it takes this weird left turn to become the movie it ends up being. I think this shows how incredibly diverse Canada is, in a great way.
At the end, as you're observing the Canada Day parade in Vancouver, you seem to come to the realization that Canada had changed while you'd been living in L.A., that it no longer has that sense of inferiority that you – and pretty much all of the talking heads in the film, from William Shatner to Dave Foley, Michael J. Fox and Mike Myers – think it does. Do you believe that?
For me, it has gotten a lot cooler and a lot more confident.
On your road trip, why did you miss Newfoundland, Labrador, PEI, Manitoba and the Territories?
We talked about starting as far east as we possibly could, and just for a time frame – driving, and budgetarily – it just didn't work out.
Are you hoping to spark protests from people in those places? That would be good PR.
Sure, I'd love protests. I'd love anything outwardly enthusiastic from anybody with any connection to this film.
I have a friend from Newfoundland who might go to the theatre with a protest sign.
I'd fully embrace it. Obviously, the first thing I'd do would be to apologize. Then he'd say sorry for being so aggressive, with his sign, then with some poutine and some beer we'd watch the Flames beat the Canucks.
Being Canadian screens at the Bloor Cinema at 9:45 p.m., April 25.