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Barbarian Invasions is gem of Genies

  • Can Canadians fall for Canadian films?
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    • Canadian Press Sunday, May 02, 2004 Denys Arcand's Oscar-winning film winds six major awards, including best picture

      Any other outcome might have proven a bit embarrassing to the 24th annual Genie Awards.

      Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions, already winner of an Academy Award earlier this year as best foreign-language film, walked away from the 2004 Genies with six major awards, including best picture and best director and screenplay for Arcand.

      The story of a group of aging Quebec intellectuals reminiscing about their hedonistic past won Genies, too, for best supporting actress Marie-Josee Croze - also a winner at last year's Cannes film festival - and for her best actor and best supporting actor co-stars, Remy Girard and Stephane Rousseau respectively.

      In accepting his director's trophy, Arcand said the secret to success is all in the timing, namely to make a film "during the years that David (Cronenberg) and Atom (Egoyan) are inactive."

      After the telecast, Arcand insisted that he was surprised by each victory and called it "a freak year" in which Quebec cinema dominated the Canadian film awards.

      "It's unbelievable. For some reason all these films came out together - I mean normally they would be spread out over a certain number of years - it just happened that way."

      Arcand's wife and producer, Denise Robert, insisted they never tire of winning awards and that the best-picture Genie meant a lot.

      "A good film has no cultural or language barriers," she said about the film that was screened in English Canada with subtitles. "The laughter, its humour, emotions, insights can be shared by everyone."

      Girard wasn't present but in a recorded acceptance from Montreal - where he was performing on stage - he noted it was his fourth Genie and is always a great honour.

      He noted he didn't win for playing the same part in Arcand's 1987 prequel Decline of the American Empire and doubted he would play the role again because he died in the new film and he knows Arcand hates flashbacks. But he said he was happy "despite the fact it took me 17 years to achieve the role and to play it correctly."

      Sarah Polley broke what could have been a clean sweep for Arcand's film in the major categories by winning best actress for her role in My Life Without Me, the story of a young Vancouver wife and mother who learns she has only months to live.

      Polley made the most politically controversial remark of the evening, a clear rebuke of Telefilm Canada's new policy of funding films with commercial, not auteur appeal.

      "I don't think the answer to making our films more accessible is to make dumber, more commercial movies. I think it's to make sure people can see them and to ensure that a quota of our screens are dedicated to showing our films so that Canadians can have access to their own stories."

      Polley received heavy applause and cheers.

      The adapted screenplay prize went to Robert Lepage for La Face cachée de la lune, a film he also stars in and directs. It's the story of Philippe, a man who is seeking meaning in the universe and his place in it while trying to cope with the recent loss of his mother and the estrangement of his only sibling.

      The Saddest Music in the World, Winnipeg director Guy Maddin's eccentric story about a Depression-era beer baroness with glass legs and the strange contest she initiates, won three Genies in announcements made prior to the live telecast: for best editing, costume design and original music score.

      Norman Jewison's political thriller The Statement, starring Michael Caine, won for best achievement in overall sound and sound editing, while the Cold War family drama Falling Angels won for best original song, Ken Whiteley's Tell Me.

      First-time director Jean-Francois Pouliot's gentle comedy Seducing Doctor Lewis, went into the Genie night with a leading 11 nominations, but won only for best cinematography.

      The Golden Reel Award, for best Canadian box office performance, went to Seraphin: Un homme et son peche, a love story set in 1890s Quebec, which pulled in a staggering $9.6-million, primarily in Quebec, during the qualifying period from October 2002 to October 2003.

      And the Claude Jutra first-time director's award went to Sebastien Rose for Comment ma mere accoucha de moi durant sa menopause.

      This was CHUM Television's first crack at the Genie telecast which traditionally was aired by the CBC to miserable ratings. CHUM scheduled the broadcast on a string of its conventional and specialty outlets, including Citytv, Star, Bravo, ASN and Access, with a French-language version on Quebec's MusiMax.

      CHUM vowed a different kind of gala. Instead of a theatre setting, they opted for dinner tables and a post-show "Shmooz," the same off-the-cuff party atmosphere they mount each year at the Toronto International Film Festival.

      Many felt CHUM was taking a risk by selecting envelope-pushing comic Scott Thompson to emcee. Thompson opened the show with pre-recorded sketches in which he displayed his alleged failed screen tests for a number of past Canadian films from Quest For Fire to Atanarjuat. In Kissed, a Molly Parker film about a necrophiliac, he supposedly auditioned for the part of a corpse that was getting an erection under the white sheet.

      In his monologue, Thompson poked fun at the fact many Canadian films are unknown to Canadian theatre-going audiences. He proposed they be offered primarily as video rentals for sick people instead.

      "Throw in a cup of soup and a free bottle of ginger ale and watch the loonies roll in!" he said to hearty audience laughter.

      But in the live telecast, it wasn't Thompson, but Telefilm Canada director Peter Stursberg and comic Mary Walsh who challenged TV taboos by using the f-word in their onstage dialogue.

      Backstage, Polley was asked if she was disappointed that more people didn't see her film.

      "It disappoints me because the Dawn of the Dead is a movie I loved doing. I really would have rather this movie ( My Life Without Me) made $27-million and I think it's a movie that affects people's lives and can affect the way they think."

      She expressed gratitude that Odeon Films supported her film.

      "But there's only so much you can do when it's playing at one theatre and American blockbusters are playing in every theatre. I love movies and I go to see films I want to support, but ultimately I'm going to go to the theatre near me and so is everybody else. And we need to make sure these films are able to have an audience by being accessible to the public."

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