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The one benefit of having the Canadian Screen Awards go virtual this year: no unexpected smackdown between, I dunno, Colin Mochrie and Yannick Bisson. The disadvantage? Well, there are many, including an ever-building level of anxiety on the part of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, which has for three years running now had to remain more flexible than the country’s rigid screen sector typically allows.

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Canadian Academy CEO Beth Janson was initially concerned about the awards ceremony's shift to online, but with a new wave of COVID-19 in full swing, she said she doesn't regret her decision.George Pimentel

After the 2020 gala was called off right as the first wave of COVID-19 hit (with a makeup ceremony delivered online later that year), and then the 2021 awards show were forced to pivot to a virtual event delivered on the Canadian Academy’s social-media channels, the 2022 CSAs were scheduled to be an in-person event.

But as planning got under way this past December, Omicron arrived. Not knowing how long the wave might last, the Canadian Academy called off plans for a live broadcast, resulting in this year’s prerecorded one-hour telecast, which will air Sunday on CBC and CBC Gem.

“For the past few months, I’ve been lamenting the shift online, but then these past few weeks, there’s that familiar feeling of, ‘Oh, something is changing, we’re back in a wave,’ so it’s fine,” said Canadian Academy chief executive Beth Janson in an interview. “But it is just so frustrating to see the ups and downs. We still do not have a handle on this as an industry. It’s literally out of our control.”

Frustration seems to be the unintentional theme for this year’s CSAs, which arrive at a supremely awkward moment of competing Canadian entertainment realities. The Oscars and the Grammys (and, ostensibly, next month’s Junos) forged ahead while a certain whiff of case-count panic remains in the air. Movie theatres and film and television sets are wide open for business – indeed, 2021 saw the highest film and TV production levels in Ontario to date, with 394 projects shot in the province – but there remains a wariness on audiences’ part about returning to the cinema. And when people are at home, they are so inundated by content that the chances of homegrown series and films making a dent in their streaming queues seems increasingly remote.

This year’s leading CSA nominees in the film categories, by the way? That would be Night Raiders, Scarborough, All My Puny Sorrows, Wildhood and Drunken Birds. Danis Goulet’s futuristic thriller Night Raiders is currently available to stream (on Crave), while the Quebec-Mexico co-production Drunken Birds can be rented on TIFF’s digital platform – but others are either only available in (very) select theatres or, in the case of All My Puny Sorrows, yet to be released.

“These are not films that everyone has seen – some of this year’s nominated TV series are also lower on people’s radar – but it doesn’t mean that they’re not great,” Janson says. “I can’t imagine a Wildhood or a Scarborough or a Night Raiders coming from anywhere else. I genuinely think that Canadian film is in a very exciting time, and sometimes when I say that I feel I’m speaking into the void because I don’t feel that these movies are getting the respect that they deserve.”

To that end, the CSAs are doing their absolute best to, as Janson says, “give these films and series the platform they deserve” – a push that this year benefits greatly from a renewed partnership with the CBC.

“We learned a lot about doing this show in a very DIY fashion last year,” Janson says with a laugh. “So our goal with this show is to go beyond. To reach Canadians who don’t know the ins and outs of everything that happens in the Cancon sector. "

Practically, this means a slicker, shorter telecast filled with prerecorded sketches from the comedy troupe TallBoyz, tributes to this year’s Special Award recipients, a selection of award announcements from “prominent categories,” and clips from the nominated productions. Lots of clips, Janson emphasizes – all the better to show Canadian audiences exactly what they might be missing out on. (This year’s big nominees on the television side include Sort Of, Coroner, Jann, Letterkenny and Transplant – some of which are familiar, but a slate that lacks the international cachet of Schitt’s Creek, which has dominated the past few CSAs).

And though Janson is hopeful that 2023′s CSAs will look far different from this year’s, she admits that it is impossible to predict what the landscape – awards show or otherwise – will look like in a year’s time.

“I don’t think that we’ve seen yet the major changes that are going to happen in the industry. There are still huge shifts that are going to happen in terms of distribution and creation of content,” she says. “I do have hope, though, because for the first time, serious money and serious thought is being put into equity and what is being funded in this country. I don’t want to see us take a step back. We have to keep pushing.”

The French Connection

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Mara Gourd-Mercado, executive director of L’Academie, said the two film organizations work 'side by side in promoting films and careers across the country.'George Pimentel

If the Canadian Screen Awards occupy a strange space in the country’s English-language cultural market, take a moment to appreciate how they affect the Quebec side of things.

This year, there are a number of French-language films up for CSAs (including Night of the Kings and The Noise of Engines), although Quebec productions aren’t dominating the slate like in 2019. But what role do the CSAs play in Quebec, when that province already has a marquee film awards institution, the Prix Iris awards (formerly known as the Jutras), presented by the non-profit Québec Cinéma?

“The Prix Iris is an important staple – it’s by the Quebec industry, for the Quebec industry. But the CSAs [have] a resonance throughout Canada,” says Mara Gourd-Mercado, executive director of L’Academie, the Quebec branch of the Canadian Academy. “They work side by side in promoting films and careers across the country.”

The 2022 Canadian Screen Awards gala will air April 10 at 8 p.m. ET on CBC and stream on CBC Gem.

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