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The Lost Highway is a 40-kilometre stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway and part of Highway 7 in Eastern Ontario. Once a heavily travelled corridor, Highway 7’s traffic was siphoned by the completion of Highway 401 in the 1960s, which led to a regional economic depression. Derreck Roemer and Neil Graham’s feature-length documentary looks at this phenomenon to create an intensely intimate film about a vanishing way of life in rural Canada. The Toronto-based filmmakers have also produced The Lost Highway Online, a visually captivating interactive website that expands on the themes examined in the film.

Just outside the village of Arden (90 kilometres north-east of Belleville) Howard Gibbs pumps gas. But few stop anymore. His garage is collapsing and drivers think it’s closed. Gibbs wants his daughter to take over the 80-year-old family run station when he retires, but she’s not sure her father is telling the truth about what’s in store. Next-door, transplanted Torontonians Linda Tremblay and David Daski have spent seven years turning a dilapidated farmhouse into a boutique bed and breakfast, but by the time they finally open to the public the years of isolation and intense physical labour have taken their toll. Can they make a go of it or has their journey taken too long? Then there’s artisan Sarah Hale, who’s seen 40 years of slow decline, and whose Batik shop is now the last remaining store in Arden’s downtown.

But amid the boarded-up and abandoned buildings life goes on—and even when the locals band together to fight its demise, even those who love the town wonder if it’s not just too late. “When we first arrived we thought much of the region was abandoned. When we found people unwilling to let it die, that’s when we knew we had a story,” say the filmmakers.

Graham and Roemer’s acclaimed Last Call At The Gladstone Hotel chronicled the displacement of people living in a flophouse hotel. For The Lost Highway the duo take the same probing lens to the struggles of life along Highway 7.

The filmmakers will be in attendance for a post screening Q&A.

 

About Highway 7

Highway 7 came into being in 1920 when the road between Sarnia and Guelph was designated a provincial highway. It was extended to Peterborough in the early 1920s, and then farther eastward, to Perth, during the Great Depression. An unemployment relief project engaged thousands of men from across the province to build the brand new east-west corridor across central and eastern Ontario. By 1932 it was complete.

Government incentives during the 1930s ensured the establishment of services along this new stretch of Highway 7. Gas stations, restaurants, and motels began to pop up along the side of the road in the remote eastern region, and did brisk business.

At its peak, the King’s Highway 7, commonly known as Highway 7, stretched 695 km across the province of Ontario from Sarnia in the west to Ottawa, the nation’s capital, in the east. Today Highway 7 is 156 km shorter. Even so, Highway 7 remains one of Ontario’s longest highways, and from Sunderland eastward forms the Trans-Canada Highway through the eastern part of the province.

 

The Filmmakers

Toronto-based filmmakers Derreck Roemer and Neil Graham have worked together for over 20 years, producing everything from super-8 short films to feature-length documentaries. In late 2000 the pair began the Gladstone Hotel project – a film six years in the making. Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel premiered in 2007 to critical acclaim and sold out screenings at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, then played festivals worldwide before television broadcast in Canada and Israel. The film garnered Roemer and Graham a 2008 Gemini Award for Best Direction in a Documentary Series, as part of TVO’s documentary series The View From Here. In 2009 the pair formed Insurgent Projects, a company that creates everything from web videos to one-off documentaries for theatrical release and TV broadcast. Graham and Roemer released The Lost Highway, their second feature-length documentary, in 2014 and also produced an accompanying interactive website, both for TVO. The critically acclaimed film has screened at festivals across the globe and received Golden Sheaf and Canadian Screen Award nominations.

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