CUFF 2020: Director Kirsten Kosloski opens up a personal and shared musical experience with Thunder Bay rock doc Five Bucks at the Door

It was supposed to be a wonderful and some might say serendipitous closing of a circle for Kirsten Kosloski.

A return to the place where it all began to discuss her film about where she all began.

Kosloski was to travel to Calgary, where she started her career as a music and entertainment journalist with the fondly recalled alt weekly Fast Forward, for the world premiere of her feature-length documentary Five Bucks at the Door: The Story of Crocks N Rolls, which is about the Thunder Bay rock club which launched her love of music, and began her evolution as a human being.

“I was so excited,” Kosloski says on the line from her Ontario home, explaining that she hasn’t been here in over a decade. “I was looking so forward to coming back …”

She was, of course, set to participate in a special Calgary Underground Film Festival screening of the doc Wednesday, June 24 at the Globe before, well, before COVID went global.

Instead, she’ll zoom her way into the premiere streaming for a Q&A session following the 6:30 p.m. live showing of her film.

No, not optimal, but Kosloski offers nothing but effusive praise for how CUFF organizers seemed to effortlessly pivot to an online event, saying that the “blast of optimism” she got from them made it somewhat consoling that she couldn’t attend her world premiere in person.

It will be the culmination of her pet project, something she’s spent the past five years working on.

Interestingly, she notes that she first got the idea for Five Bucks when she was working as an editor at FFWD, which at that time was located in a house on 18th Avenue S.W., which backed onto the property that was the old Republik — a venue that, for those who came of age in the late ’80s and ’90s in this city, was very much regarded in the same way as the subject of her film.

But it wasn’t being in shadow of that hallowed #yyc musical ground that inspired her, rather it was from her dealings with music publicists from across the country. As those relationships grew, the subject would invariably turn to where she was originally from, and it was telling to her, “that this small — beloved, for me — venue in the middle of the Boreal Forest has this national (reputation). Everybody has heard of Crocks,” Kosloski says.

“And I was just in the wrong province at the time to do anything about it. But just as life happens, my husband got a teaching job back in Thunder Bay.”

She considers it, too, somewhat fateful that when she and her husband (who teaches film and acted as her cinematographer on Five Bucks) pulled back into the Southern Ontario outpost for the first time she was welcomed by a billboard for the new incarnation of Crocks — the original closed in 1996, with the building eventually burning down — which featured a list of upcoming shows, including Elliott Brood and other indie Canadian acts, and down at the bottom a listing for an appearance by “members of the Wu-Tang Clan.”

She took that literal sign as a figurative one and eventually approached legendary-to-many Crocks owner and promoter Frank Loffredo, whom she hadn’t spoken to in a good 25 years.

“Not only did he remember me, but he remembered my family and my brother’s garage band, and I worked up the courage to see if he wanted to have a documentary made about him. And his first response to me was a very Frank response. He asked me if I didn’t have anything better to do with my time.”

She laughs.

Kosloski says that eventually, as she began piecing Five Bucks together, reaching out to interview an impressive array of Canadian musicians who would sing his and the club’s praises — such notable nationals as Rheostatics frontman Dave Bidini, former Blue Rodeo keys player Bob Wiseman, and Bob’s Your Uncle member and broadcaster Sook-Yin Lee — and Loffredo started hearing the stories was he onboard. As the director says, it was then Loffredo realized “his story was almost bigger than Thunder Bay, (or) himself, and it had meaning to so many people. Like all-ages kids like me or the bands, and I’m just so happy I got to archive it for him because it just meant the world to me.”

And it is a very personal documentary, Kosloski and her experience are featured prominently in the film — often through animation — acting as the entry into and tour guide for the alt-rock world that Crocks opened up for her and hundreds of kids in the unlikely locale of Thunder Bay.

That, she says, was not her initial intent.

“It wasn’t supposed to be that way at all,” she says. “When I started the documentary, and because of my writing background, it was going to be a very standard music documentary, chronicling the history of the bar and Frank and talking to musicians. That changed when I started interviewing people because as I would start to talk about the bar and Frank and sort of doing the intro before any interview, they would always stop the interview and turn it around and say, ‘Well, you need to include your story.’

“I resisted this, well, until we did post production, until we edited it, because my sweetspot is the sidelines, I like being on the other side of the camera … that’s my comfort zone. But it happened so often that I started to consider that maybe my story could represent (others).”

She continues. “Something that was also coming up a lot with people who were contacting me, music lovers who went to Crocks N Rolls, just that transformative thing that happens when you’re young and you not only discover great music, culture, but you find your people as well.”

Those people, her people, began to send her their own memories, as well as an assortment of show posters and ticket stubs collected over the years. 

It was personal, but shared. That’s when she knew that her small story could help tell that larger one, so Kirsten Kosloski director became Kirsten Kosloski conduit to the Crocks experience.

“It is a story about Thunder Bay and the bar and Frank but it’s kind of about what he gave to so many people. And so then I got used to it,” she says, noting that the animation helped with her comfort level.

Just as Crocks, itself, did, back when she was a “nerdy and super-shy” 15-year-old growing up in the city on the shores of Lake Superior. In the film, she recounts her first visit, which is likely relatable to anyone who finds themselves enjoying the live music experience for the first time — a sort of magical moment where you enter this almost Secret World of Og-like place and feel like, perhaps for the first time, you belong.

“I don’t even know why I decided to take the bus by myself and go. I just remember that night so well, just walking through those doors hearing the music but also seeing other teenagers, other young people who were into the same sort of thing that I liked,” she says.

“Like I say in the movie, it’s like I could breathe. And it really was like that, which is weird because it was a Dayglo Abortions show, which is not the most meditative, relaxing, come-to-your-epiphany-moment music.”

She laughs again. “But it was like walking through those doors and understanding that even though I might have felt alone or isolated there were other people there in my small community who were kind of like me. And when you’re young and discovering things for the first time, knowing that you don’t have to go it alone is so important.”

Kosloski hopes that by chronicling her experience alongside the club’s story and that of Frank — who operates the new Crocks with his daughter — will inspire others to seek out similar situations.

But ultimately, she hopes to do that time and place justice, celebrate Loffredo, give him his due and show him what he and his commitment meant to her, Thunder Bay and Canadian music in general.

“I’m really proud of how this film turned out,” Kosloski says. “Because I’m hearing from Frank and his wife and his kids, and they’re just so happy to see their dad’s and their family’s story, that it meant something, you know? That it had an impact, that all of the hard work that they put in and all of the long nights, and the sacrifices that they made, that they meant something to a lot of people.

“And I don’t think too many people can hear that about themselves, and I just feel really lucky that I was able to do that for the family. They’ve given so much to Thunder Bay.”

Five Bucks at the Door: The Story of Crocks N Rolls has its live world premiere on June 24 at 6:30 p.m. as part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival. It features a Q&A with director Kirsten Kosloski. The virtual doors open at 6 p.m, for a pre-show DJ set from CJSW’s Helen Young (The Future Language). The film is also available for streaming at