March 8, 2013

Canadian film awards seeks moniker

By PETER BLACK, Canadian Dispatch

---- — Veteran American actor James Cromwell has charmed and terrified people in such diverse screen fare as “Babe” and “American Horror Story,” portrayed no less than four U.S. presidents and been nominated for many awards, including an Oscar and three Emmys.

Yet, as the towering 73-year-old muttered as he loped to the stage in Toronto Sunday night, he’s “never won anything.”

What exactly Cromwell won is a bit unclear. Officially, he won the Best Actor award for the film “Still Mine,” which has yet to be released in theaters in Canada or the United States. But the trophy the presenters handed him does not even have a name yet, being a newly created chunk of congratulatory hardware.

That televised gala was the debut of a brand new awards event in Canada, one melding the former television arts awards (Gemini) with those from the domestic film industry (Genie). It was called the Canadian Screen Awards, and the actual award ornament looks like some golden ghost in a flowing cloak with outstretched, beckoning arms.

The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television is mindful of the problematic anonymity of its new creation, and it’s opened up the virtual suggestion box for ideas to name the northern equivalent of the Golden Globes (though the foreign entertainment press have no vote.)

A couple of early entries are the “Martys” or the “Shorts” in honour of the estimable Martin Short. The perennial Hollywood funnyman and native of Hamilton, Ontario, took on the risky task of hosting the inaugural show and, thanks to some well-timed zingers and the appearance of two of his best-loved characters, Jiminy Glick and Ed Grimly, received rave reviews.

One of those wisecracks took aim at Ben Affleck, whose film Argo won the Oscar for best picture but in Canada stirred controversy and even anger for how it minimized the true role of Canadian diplomats in freeing the hostages in Tehran. Quipped Short: “I flew in on Air Canada — or as Ben Affleck calls it, American Airlines.”

Another strong name contender in the Twitterverse is the “Candys” referring to John Candy, who died of a heart attack 19 years ago this week at age 43. Candy, who, like Short, graduated from SCTV to became a big-time movie star and is presumably much beloved in French-speaking as well as English-speaking Canada.

While the academy hopes to resolve the quest for a name for its trophy the quest for an identity and stronger presence for the Canadian film industry is likely to be a long-term project.

Home-produced movies pulled in only 2.5 percent of all box-office revenue in 2012, about $25 million, a drop of some 12 percent from the previous year. By comparison, the United Kingdom, land of “Skyfall” and “Prometheus,” domestic films accounted for 32 percent of total movie theater receipts.

The top-grossing Canadian movies in 2012 were the latest edition of the “Resident Evil” franchise, and “Goon,” Jay Baruchel’s tale of a kind-hearted hockey enforcer. (The top foreign movie, by the way, was the super-hero flick “The Avengers,” amassing some $58 million).

Things were even worse in Quebec, where French-language films made in the province traditionally take a healthy slice of the movie theater pie. But 2012 saw a dramatic drop with only a few films making more than a million dollars, one of which was another hockey film, “Pee-Wee 3D, The Winter that Changed My Life.”

Still, Canadian-made films at least make a mark on the international scene if not at the home box office. For example, “War Witch” (”Rebelle” in French) was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film, losing to “Amour,” from Austria. But the French-language film, made by a Quebecer of Vietnamese ancestry, about a child soldier in Congo, took home 10 Canadian Screen Awards.

It’s difficult to predict how Canadian films will fare this year — perhaps Cromwell’s “Still Mine,” also starring Quebec film icon Genevieve Bujold — will be a smash in theaters once it’s released.

Whatever happens, though, top films will be in contention for a prize that, come the Canadian Screen Awards show next year, should have a name.

Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at