Toronto filmmaker Clement Virgo has worked in the industry for over two decades, yet he says he was surprised to find out that his coming-of-age film set in Scarborough is this year’s leading film nominee heading into the Canadian Screen Awards.
Virgo’s feature Brother, which is based on the novel by David Chariandy, received 14 nods from the Canadian Academy of Cinema and Television on Wednesday, including best motion picture and achievement in direction.
The adaptation, which dives into societal challenges facing two Jamaican Canadian brothers in the 1990s, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and made TIFF’s Top Ten list for 2022.
“I’ve been making films for [more than] 20 years and I’ve had my ups and downs in terms of getting a nomination or not being nominated,” said Virgo, who won a Canadian Screen Award for best direction in a limited series with the CBC series The Book of Negros in 2016.
“When you get nominations, it’s kind of a confirmation of the fact that people respond to your work,” Virgo said. “I never take it for granted because filmmaking is hard.”
Virgo added that it’s gratifying for him to witness BIPOC-led content leading the CSA nominations and being embraced in Canada.
The Black-led CBC and BET Plus series The Porter is the top overall nominee with 19 nods, including best drama series, best writing in a drama and best costume design.
Set in Montreal, Detroit and Chicago, the hour-long series that spotlights the railway workers’ pursuit of liberation boasts a largely Black Canadian creative team, including co-creator Arnold Pinnock and showrunners Marsha Greene and Annmarie Morais.
“I remember when I first started, there was a handful of filmmakers doing the work and there were a handful of activists,” said Virgo, who entered the industry with his crime drama Rude in 1995.
“For the Academy to acknowledge and to say that this is the best of the Canadian film industry is great.”
The film’s star Lamar Johnson is also up for performance in a leading role for his turn as a younger brother living in the shadow of a dynamic older sibling while taking care of his mother. The feature is set for a theatrical release on March 17.
Johnson said that he woke up to text messages and felt overwhelmed by the number of nominations tied to a project he feels was defined by effort and passion.
“This is very special to me, especially with it being the Canadian Academy,” said Johnson. “Me being a Canadian boy, being born and bred here and this being my first real nomination, I would say I’m really grateful.”
Other major contenders for best motion picture include Stéphane Lafleur’s sci-fi dystopian drama Viking with 13 nods, David Cronenberg’s body horror Crimes of the Future with 11, and Anthony Shim’s immigrant drama Riceboy Sleeps with six.
Two other top challengers in television include the CBC comedy Sort Of, and the kids’ series Detention Adventure, which are tied for the second-highest number of nominations at 15.
Sort Of, which follows a gender-fluid millennial navigating work and romantic relationships, is up for best comedy series and best lead performer for Bilal Baig for the show’s second season.
Performance nods for Baig and co-star Amanda Cordner, who is up for best supporting performer in a comedy, come after the actors chose not to submit for the 2022 awards due to the gender-binary classification system at the time.
“It really didn’t feel like I was standing my ground at the time. it was a gender category and I’d feel uncomfortable if I was nominated, it’s just facts,” said Baig in a phone interview shortly after the nominations.
The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television has since implemented gender-neutral categories for lead and supporting film and TV roles. In this inaugural year, the change has shifted the number of nominations per performance category from five to eight.
“I really was not trying to change the whole system – the awards are cool and it’s a great celebration but I was just trying to be real with myself.”
The annual bash will hand out trophies in 145 categories for film, television and digital media, in genres ranging from kids’ programming to reality series to news. Special honours and fan choice bring the awards tally to 157.
On the TV news front, CTV National News with Lisa LaFlamme is up for best national newscast, competing with CBC’s The National, APTN National News and Global National News.
The nod comes following LaFlamme’s departure from CTV last August due to what Bell Media described as a “business decision” and which LaFlamme said left her “blindsided.” The ouster sparked a public outcry and a workplace review at the station.
LaFlamme is also nominated for best news anchor, and she’s set to receive the Gordon Sinclair Award for broadcast journalism.
Actors Ryan Reynolds, Simu Liu and Catherine O’Hara are also among the special honourees.
In the digital media categories, the satirical show Revenge of the Black Best Friend is on top with nine nominations.
Created, co-written and co-produced by Amanda Parris, the series stars Olunike Adeliyi as a self-help guru who wants to end Black stereotypes in the film and television industry.
The most-nominated reality or competition program is Canada’s Drag Race with nine nods.
While awards will be handed out in person for the first time since the pandemic, the Academy announced earlier this month that the traditional live broadcast, which honours the best in film and television, will be replaced with a pretaped special hosted by comedian Samantha Bee.
The awards will be handed out at seven filmed but untelevised galas between April 11 and 14 with opportunities for winners to accept hardware and give speeches among their peers.
Winners will be made public throughout the week, leading up to the pretaped telecast that will incorporate celebrity interviews and highlights from the galas. It will air April 16 on CBC and CBC Gem.