Denis Villeneuve's harrowing drama about the 1989 Montreal massacre Polytechnique led the field with 11 nominations at yesterday's Genie Awards announcement, while the highly acclaimed J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) was conspicuously incognito, receiving just one special award from The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.
A major success on the film festival circuit, director Xavier Dolan's story of the explosive ties between a mother and her teenage son had been Canada's official entry for a best foreign-language film Oscar.
But J'ai tué ma mère didn't make the final Oscar nomination list, nor did it receive any Genie nods in the regular categories. Instead, the Canadian academy's jury, composed of film professionals, technicians and critics, will give Dolan the Genie's special Claude Jutra Award for outstanding work by a first-time feature filmmaker at the Genie Awards gala on April 12 in Toronto.
"It definitely was considered in all the categories," said Sara Morton, chief executive officer of the Canadian academy. "There is a significant difference between a film that does well on the festival circuit and one which is in a competition against other films. I don't think you can generalize from festival success to Genie success."
Those at the press conference in downtown Toronto could be forgiven for thinking that director Charles Officer's Nurse.Fighter.Boy was the runaway success. It came in second with 10 nominations. Each time Nurse.Fighter.Boy was named in categories such as best motion picture and best direction, a host of producers and artists associated with the film cheered, unusual for the quiet-as-church nomination announcements of past years.
"I don't think I've had so many goose pimples on my body," said Justine Whyte, Nurse.Fighter.Boy's executive producer and a director of feature filmmaking at the Canadian Film Centre. Why the excitement over Nurse.Fighter.Boy in particular this year? Whyte said, "It has such emotional integrity. I know it affected me over and over again in the edit room."
After the nominees were announced, more rare emotion surfaced when Officer, Nurse.Fighter.Boy's director and a former National Hockey League prospect, had to turn away from a reporter to stop from crying.
"This film is something about hope, especially coming out last year with [the election of President]Obama and winning. There was this sort of energy," said the Canadian-Caribbean director. "I hope that [the film]continues this spirit."
He added that the Genie nominations can be frustrating because, unlike the Oscars, his film and others have already had their theatrical release and have also long been out on DVD, so it's difficult to capitalize on the award.
Among the other multinominated films were the haunting Inuit drama Before Tomorrow with nine nods; Grande ourse: La clé des possibles (The Master Key) about a fantastical search for a magic key with eight nominations, and Canadian-made Irish political drama Fifty Dead Men Walking with seven.
"It feels fantastic," said Fifty Dead Men Walking director Kari Skogland, whose film is up for best achievement in direction and other categories. "[Film critic]Roger Ebert said something: He did a very wonderful review of Fifty Dead Men Walking. And [Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war film] The Hurt Locker was doing it's run at the time. And he said that Kari Skogland and Kathryn Bigelow have just blown the lid off the notion that women can't direct action."
That was like scoring the winning goal, the Toronto-based Skogland said.
Her next films, currently in the development and financing stages, include such diverse action dramas as William the Bastard, a depiction of the Battle of Hastings of 1066, and another film about the mob, which Tom Cruise is considering Skogland said.
She is also an example of how the Genies can have an impact beyond Canada. "People love the story of awards. …There's no question that ratcheting up the awards is bottom-line oriented," she said, as she talked about securing financing for her new projects in Hollywood and abroad.