On December of 2015, Many Canadians were shocked to hear about Gord Downie’s diagnosis of an incurable brain tumour. As the frontman of the Tragically Hip, Downie has touched many hearts with his poetic lyrics and his subtle yet charismatic presence. Unashamed of their Canadian Identity, many consider the Tragically Hip as much a part of Canada’s Zeitgeist as is Hockey or the Maple Leaf. In fact, many consider this band Canada’s best kept secret. And with little time left, Downie and his bandmates travelled across the country to say goodbye to their millions of fans. That tour serves as the centrepiece for Long Time Running, a loving and sombre tribute to this band.
The journey to the final tour was one of great struggle and hesitation. After a temporal lobectomy and 6 weeks of surgery, Downie was so weak he couldn’t even remember names, let alone lyrics. When they started rehearsals, the band was understandably worried about Downie suffering a seizure or forgetting the lyrics. Even guitarist Rob Baker admitted “I didn’t think there was a chance in hell we were going to make the tour.” There were precautions made, from Downie reading the lyrics via monitors to Downie being carried onstage. Still, as bassist Ben Sinclair said “If [Downie] wanted to quit, we were willing to shut it down.”
But once Gord Downie stepped on the stage in Victoria and sang “Blow at High Dough,” we saw the charismatic powerhouse who commanded the audience with love. From these live performances, Downie, Baker, guitarist Paul Langlois, bassist Ben Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay revealed the spiritual link that kept them in sync with each other. From the tears in the audiences’ eyes, you come to understand how special this band was to them. Through this tour, everyone involved realized this tour was bigger than all of them. This wasn’t just any tour and The Tragically Hip wasn’t just any rock band. This was a farewell to the group who has come to embody Canadian Music. Downie himself summed it up perfectly when he asked “How many people get to turn the lights off? How many get to say Goodbye.”
The image of Downie strutting on stage with his feathered hat and glittering metallic suit is sure to become as iconic as Terry Fox or Wayne Gretzky. But that’s just a hint of the many iconic moments. Throughout the film, we see every process of preparation from rehearsals to the set up of drive in projection screens for live recordings. We even see the making of the hat, which cultivates in a heartfelt scene of designer Karyn Gingras attaching her favourite lyrics within the hat. Rarely do I discuss editing in a documentary, but the way editor Roland Schlimme superimposed the band’s early years with travelling pine trees is haunting in its beauty.
But the scene that stands out the most to me is footage of the band’s first day of rehearsal after Downie’s recovery. Seeing a bearded, frail Downie makes you understand why his bandmates were worried about him. Then Langlois plays “Escape is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man” and suddenly, we and the rest of the band are in suspense, waiting for Downie to remember the lyrics. Right now, I consider this my favourite scene of 2017.
It is with tragic circumstance that the Yellowknife International Film Festival presents this documentary a week after Gord Downie’s death. This documentary was made as a goodbye to a rock band that has captured the heart of Canadians. But now when the audience watches the band play “Ahead by a Century,” it will be done with the heartbreaking reminder of Gord Downie succumbing to the effects of his brain tumour. But at least he got to say farewell to his fans on his terms. As a fan from Phoenix puts it; “Rock N’ Roll is like a hot air balloon; eventually you come crashing down. I’ve never seen anyone land it safely.”
 Though that’s hard to defend when even the BBC’s reporting on Downie’s diagnosis and death.
 Yes, it even surpasses the fight scenes from John Wick: Chapter 2.