Having live-blogged the Oscars last week, it stands to reason that I should have done the same for the Genies last night. And I’d have been happy to, if any Canadian media outlet had carried them live, but the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television doesn’t have the juice it did once upon a time.
I understand the problem; homegrown cinema is increasingly becoming a niche within a niche in English Canada, and it’s hard to whip up national excitement over an awards show for movies that only a handful of people have seen. (In Quebec, a thriving Francophone movie industry regularly produces well-regarded cinema and proportional blockbusters; the downside is they can’t put together a decent film festival.)
But this year’s Genies should have been a media event, centered as they were around Sarah Polley’s anointment as the future of Canadian filmmaking. Away From Her, Polley’s feature-length debut as a screenwriter and director, took six prizes, including Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay; Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie bagged Best Actor and Best Actress, and Kristen Thomsen took Supporting Actress. Polley also took home the previously announced Claude Jutra award for best first feature, which, let’s not kid ourselves, was hers from the moment she started putting her film together.
It’s not that the Genies are rigged, mind you; it’s just that there are so few worthwhile Canadian films released in a given year that the awards tend to appear pre-ordained: The only reason David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence didn’t sweep the 2005 awards was that, as an entirely American production, it was ineligible for consideration. But they made it up to Cronenberg last night, awarding Eastern Promises prizes for Steven Knight’s original screenplay and Armin Mueller-Stahl’s supporting performance, as well as Editing, Cinematography, Score, Sound and Sound Editing.
The split between Away From Her’s primarily creative wins and Eastern Promises’ largely technical awards essentially validates my problems with both movies: Polley’s film struck me as a splendidly acted TV-movie, while Cronenberg’s was a visually lush box with little inside we hadn’t seen before. No disrespect to either director; it’s just that neither of their films was the best thing they’ll ever make.
It’s not Polley’s fault that she’s been elevated into the pantheon when she’s really just made a strong, if entirely conventional, first feature; she’s the closest thing we have to a national treasure, and I can totally understand the impulse to reward her for her commitment and talent.
And hey, speaking of movies with a TV-safe mentality, it’s great that the Academy avoided honouring Shake Hands With The Devil for its good intentions and atrocious execution; up for a dozen awards, Roger Spottiswoode’s focus-grouped Dallaire docudrama slunk away with a booby prize for Best Original Song – and even that was more than it deserved.