Denis Villeneuve’s creepy thriller Enemy, the TV comedy Call Me Fitz, and hit TV series Orphan Black were the big winners at this year’s second annual Canadian Screen Awards, but the Oscar feted Gabrielle from filmmaker Louise Archambault took home the coveted award for Best Feature Film.
Gabrielle took home the evening’s biggest prize for the tale of a young woman with Williams Syndrome falling in love with a fellow member of her choir and attempting to become independent enough for the two of them to live together. It was put forward this year as Canada’s selection for Oscar contention, but ultimately wasn’t nominated. Producer Luc Dery backstage after accepting the award remarked that they were shocked to win the evening’s biggest prize and that the race must have been one of the closest on record since there were eight nominees with most of the films still yet to be released in theatres.
Gabrielle director Louise Archambault (who wasn’t nominated in the best director category) explained that the life cycle of her film is still going strong and getting more and more exciting as the film makes its way to other countries where the film’s messages of love, acceptance, and independence are being embraced beyond just Canada.
Gabrielle also garnered an award for Best Leading Actress for Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, who herself has Williams Syndrome. Nearly floored and crouching down briefly when accepting her award on stage, Rivard was beaming with happiness and backstage remarked quite beautifully “It’s a dream come true. This is my life and I love it.”
Prior to the television broadcast during the announcement of off-air winners in several categories, Enemy seemed to be on a bit of a roll, netting technical awards for editing, cinematography, and score. When the show started Toronto actress Sarah Gadon won an award for Best Supporting Actress (which she was unable to accept because she was in Finland working on a film, but Villeneuve read a speech on her behalf and she tweeted her elation at winning at approximately 3:30am Finnish time).
Villeneuve would also pick up the award for Best Achievement in Direction for the Toronto set and Jake Gyllenhaal starring doppelganger thriller based on Jose Saramango’s novel. He seemed a bit taken aback, surprised that he won an award for a film that hasn’t come out in Canada yet in the press room backstage (it gets released this coming weekend). He also remarked that he never saw the category as a competition because he considered many other filmmakers who won awards or were nominated as colleagues and friends, specifically mentioning Archambault, Le Demantelement director Sebastien Pilote, and Tom at the Farm director Xavier Dolan as filmmakers he would have been just as excited to see win.
In addition to thanking his parents for giving him his subconscious while on stage receiving his award, Villeneuve also gave a shout out and apology to the evening’s big Lifetime Achievement Award winner David Cronenberg for letting him “play in his backyard without permission.” Backstage, Villeneuve would clarify that while he wasn’t directly influenced by Cronenberg’s work, he was a filmmaker that he had tremendous amounts of respect for.
“Let’s face it, when you are shooting a film in Toronto with giant spiders roaming around, you’re in David Cronenberg territory.” Villeneuve said. When asked if he had any favourite Cronenberg films, he said he was “still traumatized” by Dead Ringers, but that he really appreciated the audacity of Crash and Naked Lunch.
Cronenberg was honoured via a clip retrospective introduced by Canadian actor and Cosmopolis supporting actor Jay Baruchel that Cronenberg was surprised to see on TV because in many cases the clips used could never have been shown on TV and in some cases were even cut from the theatrical releases of films by the former Ontario Censor Board. Properly introduced by History of Violence and Eastern Promises star Viggo Mortensen (who briefly and cheekily posed with a Montreal Canadiens flag for photos after the presentation) as “the finest director and the sanest man I know.”
On stage Cronenberg cracked wise and kept things light about being an aging filmmaker, telling a joke about an elderly man who has lost the ability to urinate talking to his doctor, and later referencing the comic strip Dilbert when talking about how he views human nature in relationship to his films. Backstage, Cronenberg was just as funny, but also had a lot to say about how he never looks back in his career and is constantly looking forward. Next on the horizon is his recently completed film Maps to the Stars (which has been submitted to Cannes, but has yet to be accepted), and his first ever novel Consumed will be published in September.
Multiple nominated films Empire of Dirt and The F Word each garnered screenwriting awards for Best Original and Best Adapted Screenplays, respectively, in awards given out just before the televised broadcast. Empire of Dirt writer Shannon Masters spent close to a decade writing and rewriting her drama about three generations of native women, and spoke quite rightfully about the power of persistence.
F Word writer Elan Mastai was quite jovial in the press room following his win even when the first question posed was one that has been dogging the film for a while now: When will the film (starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan as a pair of friends falling in love) be released following its debut at TIFF last year and will the title be changed. Mastai said that while he couldn’t confirm a release date aside from it happening in the summer, he suggested that August 1st looks to be the target date as of right now. He also said that everyone involved with the film (which screened from a recently struck test screening print when it played TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten this past January in a new cut that people thought had an already altered title) wants to keep the title, but it’s out of their hands and the film’s final title lies in the hand of the MPAA in the States (although the possibility that the film could be released under two different names, that’s a bit of a longshot). And when a reporter questioned if the film’s Toronto setting potentially limits the film’s chances outside of Canada, Mastai quite simply and elegantly responded “Every city is Paris when you’re in love.”
In a bit of an unseen upset in the Best Leading Actor category, Quebecois actor Gabrielle Arcand defeated four non-Canadian actors (including Enemy’s Gyllenhaal and F Word’s Radcliffe) for his portrayal of an aging farmer on the verge of losing his livelihood in Sebastien Pilote’s Le Demantelement. Arcand spent quite some time researching the lives of farmers and sheep herders and was drawn to the sense of realism in Pilote’s Balzac inspired screenplay, particularly with regard to the hard lives and depression that most farmers around the world face in the current economy.
In other film awards, Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky’s Watermark took home the prize for Best Documentary, with Baichwal using the occasion to passionately argue that while the Canadian Screen Awards have a litany of technical awards that aren’t televised that documentaries should be extended the same courtesy.
Gordon Pinset was awarded with Best Supporting Actor for his work in Don McKellar’s The Grand Seduction, but was unable to attend the ceremony due to illness.
Best animated short went to Chris Landreth’s trippy look at sensory overload, Subconscious Password, a film Landreth said was inspired by events like the evening’s awards show and the feeling one gets by being approached by people at a party from out of nowhere. Live Action Short was awarded to Patrick Cederberg and Walter Woodman’s multiple award winning Facebook break-up film Noah.
Over on the television side of things, two shows cleaned up far more than others. While Hugh Dillon won for Leading Actor in a Drama for the now ended Flashpoint, Sook Yin-Lee won an award for her work playing Olivia Chow in the made for television Jack Layton biopic Jack, and Lost Girl’s Zoie Palmer took home the evening’s Fan Choice Award, no other television shows were allowed to get a word in edgewise.
The comedic side of things belonged firmly to the Halifax shot Call Me Fitz, winner of Best Comedy Series, a show that by all accounts has been cancelled, but the producers joked about how in Canada no one actually announces that shows are cancelled and that they just kind of end by just never getting asked to start up again.
Former show writer turned acting fixture Tracy Dawson was so shocked at her win for Best Actress in a Comedy that she pretty much forgot her entire speech on stage while trying to remember it backstage afterward.
Jason Preiestly won for Leading Actor in a Comedy, and the role of Fitz was one that he had to fight hard for thanks to his teen idol image.
“(It was) one of those characters I knew I very much wanted to inhabit.” Priestly said shortly after winning. He was such a beautifully flawed character but so clear of purpose and so unabashed in everything he did that I knew he was going to be very fun to play and from the world created that I had a great hope that the show was going to be as successful as it did prove to be. I fought very hard for it because I had to. Being an All American nice guy for most of my career didn’t make me the obvious first choice.” Priestly also thanked his family for putting up with his occasional lapses into Fitz’s personality for 12 weeks every time the show shot. “When I put on Fitz’s suits, that was like my Superman suit. I would disappear into it. And then I would take it off and leave as much of it as I could behind. Sometimes not all of it, and I have definitely apologized to my family for that profusely.”
Then in possibly the least surprising, but arguably most welcome award of the night, Space and BBC America’s ambitious sci-fi thriller Orphan Black took home the award for Best Scripted Drama, and leading actress Tatiana Maslany took home a CSA for her work playing over a dozen different characters on a single show following an almost unconscionable snub at the Emmys where she wasn’t even nominated, much to the dismay of many more south of the border than up here in Canada, surprisingly.
Following a very tearful reaction to her winning the award – one that she said means a lot to her being from Canada – and presenting the evening’s final award with host Martin Short, Maslany backstage dedicated the win to all of the women that she plays on the show and the entire gamut of emotions and roles that she plays. When I asked her in the press room if she thinks she might owe the award to some of the clones she plays more than others, she laughed and said that if anything she loves getting a chance to play so many roles that she would never be approached to play otherwise. She also stressed the importance of having an awesome cast, crew, and hair and make-up team that would act accordingly around her on set depending on what role she played (especially the very business-minded Rachel that everyone likes to steer clear of) on a show where she often has to play two or three roles every day when the show shoots.
When asked how she keeps it all straight, she said it helps to keep things as playful as one can. “It’s all about going to that place of insanity that we have as kids and we shut down as adults.” Maslany said. She also said that she’s extremely proud of how the show is taking important steps in both female and queer representation on screen. While the recently wrapped second season of the show premieres in several weeks, the show’s staff said they hope to start writing Season Three sometime in May to begin shooting in September.
As for the festivities themselves, Martin Short got the night started off right with an incredibly sharp opening monologue that included requisite jokes about the brutally cold winter this year and Rob Ford, but also blended old school joke telling with the same kind of risqué verve that Ellen Degeneres brought to her monologue at this year’s Oscars.
“I think what Ellen did was great. Ellen has such an ease to her that she reminds you that you are just giving out awards. She shows that you can’t be confused and think it’s your show. The job of the host is to set the tone and remind people that it’s about the actors and the filmmakers and the craftspeople who make these things.” Short said following the show.
The evening also marked the first time Short worked with Kids in the Hall member Dave Foley on stage to present an award as a potty mouthed, drunken, life sized puppet to Foley’s beleaguered ventriloquist. The duo had wanted to do something together for quite some time, but this was the first ever chance they had been given to collaborate on something.
While Short is unsure of whether or not he’ll come back next year, his opening musical number about offering consolation to losing actresses in his dressing room (and his near mauling of Jason Priestly) and the way he deftly handled the in house band accidentally playing him off during his monologue suggests that people would like to see more of him. I’m all for it, too. Let’s just hope that next year more people are actually able to see the films that were nominated for awards before the awards actually happen.