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Violah Beauvais, left, as Ruby and Kiawentiio as Beans in Tracey Deer’s coming-of-age drama Beans.

Sebastien Raymond/Courtesy of EMAFilms / Mongrel Media

Remember last month’s Academy Awards? Given the show’s dismal ratings, probably not.

But Thursday night’s live-streamed Canadian Screen Awards certainly had the Steven Soderbergh-produced telecast top of mind as it attempted to pull off what might be the anti-Oscars. Loaded with footage of the nominated work, pre-engineered to never go into semi-improvised “Glenn Close says ‘da butt’” territory, but without acceptance speeches (sorta), the CSAs zigged where the Academy Awards zagged.

As our country’s screen sector begins its very, very, very slow march back toward normalcy, The Globe and Mail presents the highs and lows from the ninth annual CSAs.

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The Toronto Arab Film Festival didn’t need to adapt to virtual events - it was born into the pandemic world

The Good

Insurance, insured: At the start of Thursday night’s two-part show (one hour focusing on the less glitzy awards, 90 minutes celebrating the biggest categories), Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault took time away from defending Bill C-10 to announce some surprisingly good news: Ottawa was increasing its commitment to the Short Term Compensation Fund by $49-million, to a total of $149-million. The STCF, launched this past fall, is essentially a COVID-19 insurance fund to help Canadian film and television producers should a coronavirus outbreak shut down production.

Gone, but not forgotten, at 1.5x speed: While the Oscars delivered an In Memoriam segment that was sped up to a comical degree, the CSAs took things nice and slow. It was nicely capped off with a video message from Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek accepting his 2020 Academy Icon Award (partly in French!), recorded a few months before he died this past November.

Full of Beans: Although it has yet to be seen by audiences outside the film-festival circuit, believe me when I say that Tracey Deer’s coming-of-age drama Beans is the real deal. And the CSAs obviously feel the same way about the film, which follows a young girl caught in the middle of the 1990 standoff between Mohawk communities and the Quebec government. On Thursday night, the organization awarded Deer’s directorial debut both the John Dunning Best First Feature Film Award, and the evening’s big prize: best picture. It’s a little strange, though, that voters didn’t spread the love and give the John Dunning prize to, say, Evan Morgan’s The Kid Detective or Grace Glowicki’s Tito, two impressive and original works.

Last laugh: Despite generating a few weeks’ worth of headlines last winter – first for its casting of Sinhalese actors to play Tamil characters, and then for its heavy percentage of English-language dialogue nixing its eligibility for the Oscars’ Best International Film category – Deepa Mehta’s Funny Boy triumphed at the CSAs. With three wins – best original score, best adapted screenplay, and best director – the coming-of-age drama proves that Mehta is as powerful a cultural force as ever.

Brandon Ingram stars as Arjie in Deepa Mehta's Funny Boy.

Vidur Bharatram/The Canadian Press

Bloody well done: It feels as if actor Michael Greyeyes has been on the cusp of enjoying a big moment for a while now. But this year seems to be the genuine breaking point. Not only is the performer earning rave reviews for his work on the U.S. sitcom Rutherford Falls, he also took home the CSA for best lead actor thanks to his starring role in Blood Quantum. Director Jeff Barnaby’s zombie thriller also cleaned up in the technical-awards territory, though it strangely missed out on even being nominated for best picture.

Canadian actor Michael Greyeyes.

CHRIS DELMAS/AFP/Getty Images

The Bad

Drama squared: I’m happy for the producers of CTV’s Transplant, which was named best drama series. But I also feel that there should be a serious discussion as to why CBC’s Trickster was denied the opportunity to compete in that category by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. The optics around Trickster’s exclusion are obvious – series co-creator and director Michelle Latimer has become a lightning rod for controversy – but to ignore the brilliant work of hundreds of others who came together to create six episodes of startling TV is shameful. It’s great that Trickster’s Chrystle Lightning won for best actress in a television drama. But there was no better series last year than Trickster. If acknowledging that means having to start some difficult and messy and problematic conversations, then so be it.

The Weird

Speak now, get heard later: There were thankfully no glitchy live-Zoom speeches at this year’s CSAs. Instead, winners were encouraged to upload their acceptance videos to social media post-show. But there were recorded video messages from some of last year’s winners, who similarly watched the 2020 awards unfold from the comfort of their living rooms. The sentiment to give everyone a moment was appreciated, but also a tad confusing given that you had to remember what was nominated a year ago and then mentally separate that from what was being celebrated this evening.

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Michelle Pfeiffer in a scene from French Exit.

LOU SCAMBLE/The Associated Press

Exit stage right: Congratulations to Canadian film star … Michelle Pfeiffer? Because of the CSAs somewhat wacky eligibility rules, Pfeiffer’s comedy French Exit was up for three awards, even though it stretches the definition of a “Canadian” film. Sure, French Exit was written by a Canadian (Patrick deWitt), shot in Canada, and partly funded by Canadian money. But it was directed by an American (Azazel Jacobs), set in America and France, and starred Americans. Pfeiffer took home the CSA for best actress over such Canada-based performers as Carmen Moore (Rustic Oracle), Rosalie Pépin (Vacarme) and Madeleine Sims-Fewer (Violation).

Schitt gets real inconvenient: The most obvious win of the night belonged to CBC’s Schitt’s Creek, which took home the award for best comedy series. The second most obvious honour belonged to another CBC sitcom, Kim’s Convenience, with Paul Sun-Hyung Lee winning best actor in a comedy series. The problem? Both shows are now kaput, leaving CBC (and audiences) with a gaping hole when it comes to quality small-screen comedy. Next year’s CSAs should be pretty funny, then, at least in a nervous-laughter kind of way.

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