By Vera Grbic
March 12, 2014
The US has the Emmy Awards for television and the Academy Awards (Oscars) for film. In Canada, we have the Canadian Screen Awards, an amalgam of what used to be a separate television award ceremony (Gemini Awards) and a film award ceremony (Genie Awards).
The first incarnation of the amalgam took place in 2013. The 2014 awards were screened on March 9th, covering Canada’s creative media arenas of film, television, and digital media production.
Film at the Screen Awards
Much like the Sochi Olympics, the Screen Awards had a strong Quebec showing this year. Montreal-filmed Gabrielle, a powerful and human film about a musically-inclined woman with Williams syndrome striving to live an independent life, came away with the biggest award of the night — best motion picture. Gabrielle Marion-Rivard also earned best actress for her portrayal of the heroine, exclaiming “I love you Canada” in her enthusiastic acceptance speech. The film took inspiration from real life: Gabrielle’s choir is part of Les Muses: centre des arts de la scène, a real Montreal performing arts school for people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, Enemy, a surreal psychological thriller by Quebec director Denis Villeneuve, swept the awards with five wins, and led the nominations with 10 nods. The wins include best supporting actress, and best direction for Villeneuve. The film stars Hollywood powerhouse and previous Villeneuve collaborator Jake Gyllenhaal. The nominations are a huge scoop for the film as it is yet to be released (it’s set to come out this week).
A major highlight of the show was lauded director David Cronenberg being honoured with a lifetime achievement award. Jay Baruchel and Viggo Mortensen sang his praises in a tribute speech, where Mortensen called him “the finest director and the sanest man I know.”
Breakout star Tatiana Maslany was nominated in both film and TV categories — the film is road movie Cas & Dylan directed by Jason Priestley — ultimately winning TV best actress for “Orphan Black.” Maslany is making waves beyond a big win here, having also garnered a Golden Globe nod this year.
Then we have the Don McKellar-directed, multiple-nominee film that some might confuse with the original beloved French-language film. The Grand Seduction (giving legend Gordon Pinsent a supporting actor win in this year’s awards) is an English version based on the hit 2003 Quebecois comedy La grande séduction. Séduction also won a Genie in its day.
Making a splash at the awards was the best documentary winner, Watermark. A very timely film about water and the way it shapes humanity, it brings back together Manufactured Landscapes collaborators Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky.
Other big film winners of the night include Le Démantèlement, Empire of Dirt, The F-Word, Louis Cyr, l’homme le plus fort du monde, The Right Kind of Wrong, and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.
Bigger and better
For the second time in a row, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television made the inspired decision of getting Canadian-American comedy superstar Martin Short to host. In 2013, late night guru Conan O’Brien proposed that Short would be the perfect Oscars host. Not only do his hosting duties for the 2013 and 2014 Screen Awards prove his abilities, but the Academy needs to stay on this trend and cement Short as the Billy Crystal of the Canadian film and TV award show.
Gerry Dee, nominated for his role in the CBC series Mr. D, described to CBC that since the 2013 awards, “they [the Academy] are giving it that Oscar feel for us.” This is all the more notable as 2014 marks the 65th year that the Academy has held a ceremony.
The awards have “evolved, changed names, added television and digital productions to the competition and inspired the official founding of the Academy in 1979,” says Academy CEO Helga Stephenson.
Nominated films like Enemy have the advantage of attracting significant media attention due to the huge Hollywood names. The fact that worldwide stars appeared at the awards is also of mention, including Canadian actors who are just as well known in the States (Baruchel and Priestley) and acting heavyweight Mortensen.
Finally, it’s significant that this new award forum allows for both small and big screen stars to converge on the red carpet, promoting the broad entertainment system in Canada.