During this week’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver, one movie sheds light on one of the more colourful characters of the city’s rock-music scene.
Director Teresa Alfeld’s very personal film, “Doug and the Slugs and Me,” chronicles the rise, fall and legacy of the 1980s band led by singer Doug Bennett, who happened to be her East Van neighbour when she was a kid.
For years, Bennett’s raspy voice was heard over the party music of The Slugs, whose mix of New Wave, R&B, reggae and ska nearly broke the band into the U.S. market but remained a uniquely Canadian success story with hits including “Too Bad,” “Day By Day,” “Makin’ It Work,” “Chinatown Calculation” and more.
Bennett is another Vancouver icon documented by Alfeld, whose riveting “The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical,” about politician Harry Rankin, was a landmark for her in 2018.
For the new “slugumentary,” Alfeld interviews family, friends and fans of the band, including Bob Geldof, Bif Naked, Steven Page, Darby Mills, Sam Feldman, Ron Sexsmith, Terry David Mulligan, writer Steve Burgess, Surrey-based photographer Dee Lippingwell and even Ed the Sock.
Most compellingly, the director reads from a treasure trove of journals written by Bennett, and has others read from them, too – stories of hope and heartache that sometimes involve the narrator, for added drama. Posthumously, Bennett’s voice is heard loud and clear as a moving core of Alfeld’s script.
The movie is “a story of people who love each other growing apart,” Alfeld says at one point in the movie, and she’s not wrong.
For the band, egos got in the way as Bennett became more the focal point for fans, and battles ensued over the more pop-music direction. By the 1990s Bennett and his wife had a growing family of young kids in a house on Semlin Drive. Solo albums ensued, new band members were brought in and more and more alcohol was consumed by the singer, who died in 2004 after a gig in Calgary.
Late in the film Alfeld and Bennett’s daughters, once good friends, return to Grandview Lanes and watch an old video of the singer bowling there. On that particular day years ago, it was the first time the future film director had held a camera, and “it was all because of Doug,” Alfeld reveals.
Such poignant moments propel “Doug and the Slugs and Me” into must-watch territory for fans of Vancouver rock music and movies about the scene.
The film, Alfeld argues, couldn’t be further from a traditional rock-doc.
“On the one hand,” she notes on slugumentary.com, “it chronicles the rise and fall of Doug and the Slugs and offers a nostalgia-packed Can-con star-studded ride along the back roads of Canadian rock history. On the other hand, it’s a POV story about relationships and the pivotal friendships that shape us, break us, and help us grow. And somehow it all comes together in 90 minutes.”
During DOXA, “Doug and the Slugs and Me” will be shown on Saturday and Sunday (May 14-15) at a pair of theatres in Vancouver, with online viewings to follow. For times and tickets, visit the festival website.