1 of 4
2 of 4
3 of 4
4 of 4
The Canadian Screen Awards suffer from an identity crisis.
In 2012, following a lackluster, blink-and-you-missed-it Genies broadcast that saw host George Strombolopolous uncomfortably shouldering MC duties after co-host Andrea Martin bailed at the eleventh hour, the Academy of Canadian Film Televisions collapsed the Genies into the Geminis (or vice-versa, or whatever) and then hip the whole thing up by adding some digital media/cross-platform/etc. component. So: the Canadian Screen Awards, held at the Sony Centre last night after a week of run-up activities facilitated by the Academy. The trophy, which looks like an expensive ballpoint pen in the process of being unwrapped, doesn't even have a name yet. (Though the de facto joke choice at this point is "Screenies.")
In Canada, awards shows like this always feel weird, and not even in some woozy surreal way. They're just kind of boring. For one thing, the incestuous, back-pattiness of any awards show flies smack in the face of all those notions of modesty and humility that Canada likes to attribute to itself. Awards shows are like those people who plan birthday parties for themselves and then feign some awkward burlesque of surprise when their friends show up.
For another thing, Canadians just don't do glamour well. Compared to something like the Oscars - or the Golden Globes, or the BAFTAs, which the hybridized Canadian Screen Awards share more DNA with - the show of red carpet glitz and flash-bulb lit razzle-dazzle feels uncomfortable, like a kid lost inside his dad's oversized suit jacket. It's hard to take Kim Coates seriously in a tux. He looks like the friend's dad whose Export A green packs you used to siphon smokes from. And that's perfect. You don't need to button him up and some rented formalwear and put gel in his hair. Ditto basically every Canadian.
A big part of the whole thing is the CBC. The CBC presence here is insane - the red carpet is basically in place to funnel attendees towards them in four-minute intervals - which makes sense because the show is being broadcast on the CBC. If there's an opulent awards show and nobody's around to watch it, well, then, how would anyone even know for sure that there even was an opulent awards show?
And people keep talking about social media. Or at least saying the words "social media." There is a "social media lounge" decked out with terrible white couches propped up at like 30 degrees. They look like busted old fridges that someone dumped into a ditch.
That youngish actress who was in Adoration and one scene of The Master (IMDB confirms she has a name and that it is Katie Boland) is sitting there in a red dress, rooting through her purse. This is the kind of lurid, gossipy detail you can only acquire in the press lounge of the Canadian Screen Awards. Now she's looking at her phone, quite possibly doing something social media related. It is, after all, the social media lounge.
Stuff like a young up-and-comer hunched over her handbag behind the free buffet steam trays only casts in relief how ill-fitting all this big time awards show stuff is for the Canadian industry. Glamour and all its peripheral assets (fancy clothes, catering, an air of importance that everyone pretty much seems to take for granted as valid) is decadent and only worthwhile as a thing to make fun of. So why do we even bother?
Well, the flipside of all that humble self-effacement stuff is inferiority. There's a sense that we need an annual to-do for Canadian film and TV because other people have one. So we want one because we're good too. Right? Guys?
This feeling dogged the awards, from host Martin short's mugging song-and-dance routines that saw him fully embracing his role as Canada's Billy Crystal to some of the big winners, at least on the film side of things. Kim Nguyen's Oscar-nominated Rebelle (a.k.a. War Witch, or as people kept calling it from the podium, "Rebelle War Witch") pretty much cleaned up, taking home banner prizes like Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Motion Picture, as well as honours for Supporting Actor, Editing, Production Design, Sound Editing and Cinematography.
All things considered, Rebelle is an OK movie, lensing the indoctrination of a Congolese child solider and cloaking its spiked sensationalism (it opens on patricide and doesn't get any sunnier from there) inside of its realist aesthetic. It's not as good as Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways (or Mike Dowse's Goon, oddly nominated for Achievement in Direction but not Best Motion Picture, as if direction is just one function of what makes a Canadian film good), but it's a bit better than something like Deepa Mehta's Midnight's Children. It's mediocre, Rebelle. And of course awards shows thrive on mediocrity (see: the various upsets at the 85th Oscars, or any Oscars, or any awards show ever).
Even more than its being wholly so-so, it's impossible to shake the sense that Rebelle was so abundantly rewarded precisely because of the recognition it received from the American Academy, in the form of its Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination. There was a similar feeling at last year's Genies, when Monsieur Lazhar managed to make up for losing its own Oscar bid. The difference is that Monsieur Lazhar is a much better film than Rebelle, and so its trophies felt actually earned. There's a nagging sense of trying to keep up with Hollywood, something that has long hampered the vitality of Canadian film and TV production.
After accepting his award for Best Variety Host, George Strombolopolous entered the press lounge to answer a few questions. Somebody asked him if he was "living his kick-ass dreams" and if he had any advice for young people also looking to "live their kick-ass dreams." Somewhere in there, he was asked about the new Canadian Screen Awards format, and its bridging of film and TV communities.
"I'm not comparing us to Hollywood, that's not the point," Strombolopolous said, before going on to compare Canada to Hollywood. "But Hollywood [see?] is powerful because film and television work together." For him, the Screenies are a place where a TV writer and a film director could meet and spark off some theoretically interesting future project. They're a networking event.
Strombo went on to call Canadians "isolationists," an idea that goes back to Northrop Frye's whole idea of the "garrison mentality," if not further. It's a dated diagnosis. If anything, the Canadian Screen Awards exemplify how non-isolationist Canada craves to be, how much we yearn to tear down all those psychic/geographic boundaries in an effort to be just like our American or British cousins, and how the recognition of one of our own talents by an awards-granting body of questionable taste (like the Oscars) only serves to inflate our own estimation of their talents back home.
Earlier in the evening I ran into a friend near the abovementioned buffet steam trays, and took a quick inventory of spread, making a joke about the vegan lasagna. "Well you have to please everybody," she said. And yes, that pretty much sums it up.