The other day, during the thick of Canadian Screen Week, I put out a call on Twitter asking readers what they might do if they were given the power to fix one single thing about this country’s film industry.
I received replies that were thoughtful (rehaul the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office tax credit system), helpful (pump more marketing dollars into the system), fantastical (Ottawa should financially front theatres), and depressingly expected (“Drop the woke crap”). But after spending Sunday night watching one of the most embarrassing efforts to promote Canadian film ever produced, I can add one big suggestion to the list that should be taken up immediately by someone, anyone, in a position of power: Retool the Canadian Screen Awards.
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To be fair, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, which oversees the CSAs, were coming out of the pandemic wilderness this year more bruised and battered than most awards bodies, not having produced a real-deal gala broadcast since 2019. And I do admire, in theory, the ambition of the Canadian Academy in wanting to shake things up. This year, that meant going the experimental route of producing not a live awards telecast but rather a one-hour program mixing pre-recorded segments with edited clips of acceptance speeches from winners who collected their awards earlier in the week during a series of in-person ceremonies honouring the best of homegrown film, television and digital media.
But no amount of challenging circumstances and good intentions can excuse what aired on CBC Sunday night. Humourless, dispiriting, condescending, and ultimately disrespectful to anyone who was nominated or won an award, the 11th annual CSAs were painful to endure.
At least audiences knew that their evening was about to be ruined right from the start, with host Samantha Bee participating in a cringe-inducing opening sketch that cobbled together tired gags about Toronto-playing-New York, toques, Anne of Green Gables, and one especially weird reference to Turning Red. The entire structure of Bee’s contributions – the show kept coming back to the comedian stuck in this quasi-clubhouse of clichéd Canadiana – reeked of a self-congratulatory nothingness. From the looks of it, it seems that Bee never even left her home in New York to film the bit, something that perhaps only someone such as, say, CBC president and CEO Catherine Tait might be able to appreciate.
Matters only got worse, with the program focused not on the actual nominees and award-winners, but a random assortment of Canadian stars who found fame in the United States. While I don’t begrudge the Canadian Academy from shoehorning in some familiar names via its “special awards” to goose excitement, the structure of how they were included Sunday night was shameful.
There is a distinct difference between using Humanitarian Award winner Ryan Reynolds and Radius Award winner Simu Liu as Trojan Horses to get audiences aware and interested in actual Canadian film and television, and simply giving those actors gobs of screen time instead of, say, Clement Virgo’s film Brother (which won a remarkable 12 awards) or the CBC series The Porter (which dominated the television category with 12 statuettes of its own).
Given that there are almost 150 awards categories spread out across the CSAs, you would think that the producers of Sunday’s show would deign to include acceptance speeches from a few dozen of them. But instead, we got stingily edited packages of brief messages from the winners, inserted almost as a courtesy. I’m positive that the CSAs included more clips of Liu’s Marvel movie Shang-Chi than Brother.
It is actually impressive how, with only 60 minutes of air time, the CSAs managed to cram in an entire evening’s worth of headscratchers.
Why was The White Lotus star Adam DiMarco – a Canadian to be sure, but not nominated for anything this year, even one of the “special” awards – onscreen? Why did producers get American comedian Amy Poehler to talk with Academy Icon Award winner Catherine O’Hara when, say, Canadian sensation Mae Martin was right there? Why were the celebrity montages so long, and the segments featuring clips of the nominated films and TV productions – crucial tools that awards shows typically use to get audiences interested in what they’re actually awarding – so viciously short?
And why did I walk away from the broadcast feeling not good about myself for supporting diverse homegrown storytelling, but rather awful because of the many thinly veiled lectures I received during the telecast about not supporting diverse homegrown storytelling enough? I was already watching the show, guys! I’m on your side!
All hope is not lost, though: the Canadian Academy now has one year to repair the mess that it has got itself into. A few quick, relatively painless suggestions: Make the many in-person awards ceremonies leading up to the broadcast more intimate affairs (why were they all held at Toronto’s large Meridian Hall if they weren’t going to be at least live-streamed from there, too?), so you can save your money for a decently budgeted two-hour telecast. A telecast that is live – anyone who watches awards shows comes for the spontaneity, not the safety – and a telecast that actually gives time and space for its winners to step onto a stage, thank the world, and spark a curiosity about just what they made that they’re now being honoured.
Oh, and hire a host who will actually dare to step across the border. Take a Porter flight! It’s right there!
I will give the Canadian Academy this: It didn’t produce the worst televised train-wreck of this Sunday evening. That honour belongs to Netflix’s failed live-stream of its Love Is Blind special. The crucial difference: At least people were talking about Netflix, even if they were hating it. Just about the only people talking about the CSAs were, well, the CSAs themselves.