The Rob Ford era in Toronto was a time unlike any other. It all started with an elusive cell phone video of our jolly, rosy-faced mayor smoking crack. And with that, a media frenzy erupted. Suddenly, the entire world had its eyes on Canada's largest city as they watched the Rob Ford story continue to unfold into a slew of increasingly bizarre events.
Ford died last year from a rare form of cancer, ending the strangest Toronto saga of our lifetime. But for those few years before his death, combined with the rising popularity of Drake, Toronto went through some sort of deranged golden age—even Americans were finally starting to pay attention to us. And now, though the years of our crack-smoking mayor are behind us, the definitive crime comedy of Toronto has been captured in the form of a fictional movie.
VICE spoke to Andy King [Editor's note: King previously worked at VICE's Toronto studio as a producer for VICELAND], the director of the new Rob Ford-inspired movie aptly named Filth City, about the strange times of Toronto, getting a "death threat" from Doug Ford, and the everlasting legacy of our late mayor. The film premieres on March 25 at Scotiabank Theatre during Canadian Film Fest.
VICE: Why did you want to take on the task of making a movie about Rob Ford so soon after this happened?
Andy King: I'm a fan of crime comedies in particular… I don't think there's enough, and I wanted to do something that was authentically Canadian. One of my big influences was The Wire, and I love how The Wire taught you about the city you never knew about, Baltimore. You learn about the city through their fiction. I wanted to do a crime story, but not just set some generic city… I wanted to make it authentically Toronto, that's me… The Ford story was on the front page every day. You have the mayor of the city running around like a gangster, acting like Scarface, and it just started to influence the writing, and this is what came out.
What was it like for you personally as someone from Toronto living through the Rob Ford saga?
It was crazy, it was a really insane time. What's interesting about it is that there has really been a breakdown in social norms in society in the last few years. For thousands of years, social norms have kept people in check. There's a set of values that make it so you wouldn't say that, or you wouldn't do that—it would be disqualifying. I think Rob Ford was one of the earlier examples of, across North American culture, that you could violate norms and get away with it if you were likable enough and were a straight shooter. There's a lot of similarities to the Trump thing now that we see that.
I have this theory about it that Toronto is a very cool city—we're the fourth-largest city in North America [by population]. We're a cool city, but we just don't feel like we're cool. I feel like the whole Rob Ford thing was this moment on the international stage where we got to be the bad boy a little bit… I think we kind of appreciated that attention internationally on our city, regardless of the negativity. We just thought this is interesting, it shows a different side to our city, there's a lot going on you don't know about. That helped forge this different identity of Toronto. Back in the 40s and 50s, Toronto was called "Toronto the Good"… This was a whole new era for us… Every day there was a new story that was more outrageous than the last one, and the more I read about it, it was even harder to believe. He was literally hanging out with gangsters and partying with them on a regular basis, and it's highly unusual for a mayor to do that.
Rob Ford himself is a fascinating character. I always respected the fact that he gave his cell phone number out to constituents… He's really kind of approachable, really down to earth. I think that's why people love him. We called him to see if he would make a cameo in the movie. It didn't happen, but when we called and explained what we were doing he was like, "Oh cool, I'll think about it." He was nice about it. He was a charming guy. For all everyone says about him, the moment when he brought the reggae into city council and was dancing more than anyone else, it was wild. There's something about him you can't help but like.
How do you feel about Doug Ford calling you a "scumbag"? Are you expecting more negative response when the movie premieres?
I was shocked. I woke up and saw he called us "scumbags," profiteers, disgusting people… The language was just over the top. Worse was he threatened to run me over with a car. Yesterday at lunch [on CP24], he issued a death threat to me. He said I better not be crossing the street when he is driving, or he'll run me down… I think it's just completely outrageous to say you're going to commit vehicular manslaughter against someone for making an indie film. It's hard enough to make an indie film in Toronto without the mayor's brother all over your ass.
The irony is that this is not a takedown piece on Ford in any way. It's just a fun, exciting action comedy with his character at the centre. The reaction not just from Doug, but from his supporters… You haven't even seen the movie, you don't know what it's about.
The garbage strike is also part of the movie, right? Why did you decide to include that?
I've lived through a couple of garbage strikes. There was one in 09 and one in 02. In 02, there was one that was just crazy. It only lasted something like 16 days, but it was in the middle of the summer. Mel Lastman was the mayor and went through a really vitriol battle with the head of the union responsible for garbage removal. He was calling them irresponsible and morally bankrupt, all of these things for allowing it to happen. It was so surreal because, in one week, it just exposed how filthy the city was, there was garbage and bugs everywhere. Christie Pits [Park] became an impromptu dumping ground at the time, just mountains of garbage next to the kids' playground. It was apocalyptic in a way, it just fascinated me. The mood of the city changed so much… I had the name Filth City, and I thought of the garbage strike, and I thought it would be a nice connection.
At what point were you at with the movie when Rob Ford died?
We had already shot the whole thing. That was a shock. To be honest, people said, "What are you going to do now?" My own feeling was that he couldn't die. He just seemed like the type of personality that could beat anything. It was just a real shock for everyone that he didn't make it, that he was that sick. It was tragic. It really is.
I don't blame Doug for being upset and protective of his brother, but I think it's ridiculous to call us scumbags for making a movie about a public figure. He affected all of our lives in the city, in the country. Those kinds of situations, we connect with each other through public figures and our reactions to them, the cast of characters in our collective lives. There's different rules about public figures than private people when it comes to anything… The reason for that is that they become part of our collective identity. I think for us to make a film that is inspired by that or influenced by it, there's nothing wrong with it.
When Rob Ford died, many people were discussing how, looking back at it, this guy had a really serious problem with alcohol and other drugs. Considering that, do you feel bad about making a film about him?
No, not at all. What I've said before too is that if anything, this showcases the dark power of drugs, the disruptiveness of addiction. Truthfully, the character's conflict in the movie is a direct result of his addiction. If he hadn't been addicted and sort of overstepping the line, none of these consequences would have happened to him. At the same time, the character (played by Canadian actor Pat Thorton and named "Tom Hogg" in the movie) is likeable, just like Ford. It's maybe an antihero. It's not in any way a villain; it's just someone who is trying to solve a problem.
As far as addiction goes, I'm a nicotine addict, I understand that mentality in a way. The way I saw it is when you're an addict, the thought processes just keep going. There's not a reflection in the mirror like, Who am I? What am I doing? You see that a lot in movies. But for a lot of addicts' lives, it's just business as usual… The way I saw Ford is he just kept going, just tunnel vision. For him, it's like he worked all the time and he partied all the time, and they got kind of stuck together… And in a satirical way, the film shows that dark side of addiction.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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