TORONTO—This year marked the inaugural year for Canadian Screen Awards (CSA), a grand-scale celebration showcasing the best in Canadian film, television, and digital media.
In all, 120 awards were handed out over three nights: two “industry nights” on Feb. 27 & 28, and a primetime televised broadcast on March 3. Comedian Steve Patterson and CTV journalist Seamus O’Regan hosted on the first two nights while comedian Martin Short hosted the main celebration on Sunday night.
The CSA are a combination of two of Canada’s previous award shows—the Genies which honoured achievement in film, and the Geminis which honoured those in television.
After a week of celebrating the visual arts, one theme stood out: Canadian artists have lots of heart for what they do.
“These are the people telling our stories,” said actress Tara Spencer-Nairn in an interview following the Thursday night awards where she was a presenter.
“It’s important that we embrace our stories,” she added.
Spencer-Nairn referred to the Hollywood film “Argo” as an example of what happens when Canadians don’t tell their own stories. Set during the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the film details the rescue of six U.S diplomats after the embassy was seized by Iranian revolutionaries.
While this was largely a Canadian initiative, the film gives most of the credit to the CIA, an aspect that was recently criticized by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, among others.
Director Sarah Polley, who won an award for her feature-length documentary “Stories We Tell,” talked about the importance of public funding in allowing Canadian artists to tell authentic stories.
“I think we’re lucky in Canada that we still do have the ability to make films and be able to focus on what we’re trying to say with those films, as opposed to just how we can create a splash in this marketing thing.”
The focus on story-telling with heart was particularly apparent in the CSA’s big winner “War Witch” (Rebelle).
The French-language film telling the heart-wrenching story of a young child soldier in the Congo swept the awards with 10 wins out of 12 nominations, including for most major categories: Best Motion Picture, Achievement in Direction, Original Screenplay, Actress in a Leading Role, and Actor in a Supporting Role.
“I just tried to do the best movie I could,” said Montreal-based writer/director Kim Nguyen who spent eight years working on the film. He said it was the humanness of the film that drew audiences in, although he admitted the tough story took some time to gain momentum among audiences.
In describing his film “Still Mine,” Lead Actor winner James Cromwell summarized what he sees to be a “very Canadian story.”
“There is a sweetness to it, a gentleness—small like a miniature painting. Not overblown, understated, deeply felt, simple, and yet authentic.”
CSA favourites less than accessible
The CSA made it obvious that Canada puts out some excellent films, but perhaps it is not surprising that the titles and works of most of the directors and the names of the actors/actresses are not well known to the average Canadian. Even less are the works accessible
Almost all of the Best Picture nominated films recently screened at the Oscars were scheduled for a release. However, the Best Picture at the CSA, “War Witch,” is not as recognized, and doesn’t have a release date in Canada, according to Internet Movie Database.
Most Canadians probably first heard mention of “War Witch” during the Oscars when it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.
Also competing in the Best Motion Picture category were French-language “L’Affaire Dumont,” bilingual “Inch’Allah” and “Laurence Anyways,” and English-language “Midnight’s Children,” and “Still Mine.”
“L’Affaire Dumont” premiered at the Montreal Film Festival in September 2012 after which it was released in Quebec but is no longer playing in theatres. “Inch’Allah” screened at two film festivals in Canada and will soon be released in some European countries.
“Laurence Anyways,” was released in Quebec last May and in Toronto in September but is no longer playing in Canadian theatres, although it will be screened at numerous film festivals.
“Midnight’s Children,” opened in select theatres in Canada in November of last year but is no longer playing anywhere in the country. Although due to open in the U.S. in May, “Still Mine” screened only at the Toronto International Film Festival and is not due for any large releases.
So how will Canadians get a chance to see and appreciate their national talent when they have little or limited access to these films? That’s the burning question that needs to be addressed.
The long-awaited coming together
Actress Wendy Crewson, most notable for starring in the Canadian drama “Saving Hope,” said in an interview with Real Style Magazine, “The CSA are going to do a good job in bringing Canadian talent to a Canadian audience … otherwise, we get drowned out by this tsunami of American culture that pours into us every day.”
The first-ever CSA were praised by many attendees for bringing TV and film talent together and broadcasting networks were, for the first time, celebrating each other. Up until this year, the TV talent had their Gemini awards while the movie stars gathered for the Genies.
“It’s a good idea to combine the two shows—makes it more exciting about one night,” host Martin Short said in the press room following the show.
“It’s not just good, I think it’s really important,” George Stroumboulopoulos told reporters.
“One wasted opportunity we have is we are isolationists—the TV and film don’t overlap, and they haven’t for so long. … We need both industries to work together, incorporate web of course, so you’ve got all the people who make content for this country in a visual way together.”
Stroumboulopoulos also noted that an event like the CSA provides opportunities for industry members to meet, discuss, and lead to new collaborative efforts.
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