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Canadian comedian Samantha Bee will host this year's Canadian Screen Awards, which will take a new approach to the traditional award show with a pre-recorded ceremony and gender neutral categories.James Macari

For the first time in four years, the Canadian Screen Awards are going to take place live and in-person – but with a pandemic-era twist.

On Tuesday, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television announced its plans for this year’s Canadian Screen Week, a run of seven genre-based awards shows that will be held April 11 through April 14 at Toronto’s Meridian Hall to celebrate homegrown film, television and digital media creators. But the traditional capstone to Canadian Screen Week, the Canadian Screen Awards, will not be broadcast live with a packed audience of nominees and guests, as they were pre-2020.

Instead, the Canadian Academy will produce a pre-recorded one-hour show hosted by Canadian comedian Samantha Bee (The Daily Show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee). The show will highlight award-winners from that week’s earlier ceremonies, including footage of red-carpet interviews, acceptance speeches and what’s being described as “exclusive access” to this year’s slate of Special Award recipients including Ryan Reynolds, Catherine O’Hara and Simu Liu. The awards show, which will be produced by Katie Lafferty and Roma Ahi, will be broadcast on CBC April 16 at 8 p.m. ET and be available to stream on CBC Gem.

“When I first got here and heard that there wasn’t going to be a big live show, I said well that can’t be true. But when my staff explained the idea to me and I talked with our stakeholders, it made me excited for what we can do,” says Tammy Frick, who joined the Canadian Academy as its chief executive this past fall, replacing Beth Janson after she became chief operations officer of the Toronto International Film Festival.

“It’s about looking at the benefits of what we did during the pandemic and thinking outside the box a little bit, even if I hate using that term. But we know what worked from a live perspective, and we know what worked from a recorded perspective. So we’re taking some risks.”

Last year’s CSA show was produced in a similar, mostly pre-recorded fashion, though winners in such higher-profile categories as Best Motion Picture, Best Drama Series and Best Comedy Series were revealed during the broadcast. By announcing all the winners ahead of time during separate in-person galas, the Canadian Academy hopes to deliver a televised event that is less about the element of surprise and more focused on celebration.

“Allowing people to accept their awards live in front of their peers offers such a different level of energy, and the show itself will be a whole review of what’s happened both that week and all throughout the year,” says Frick, who came to the Canadian Academy after leading the Cinefest Sudbury International Film Festival for 27 years.

The production switch-up isn’t the only new element to this year’s CSAs. As announced last August, this year’s awards will transition to “gender-neutral” performance categories for lead and supporting performers in the film and TV categories. The move follows such cultural organizations as the British Independent Film Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards going a similar route.

“It was announced before I was with the organization, but it’s a smart move, and allows us to break down barriers and open doors,” says Frick. “No matter who you are, you should be able to be recognized as a talented Canadian creator.”

While this shift means that each category will see an increase in nominations from five to eight performers, it also means that there will be two fewer people nominated in each section than in previous years. There is also the chance that an all-male or all-female slate could populate the categories.

“One thing that we are considering when you go to a gender-less program is adding categories in the future that would allow for more celebration of that talent,” says Frick. “But we’re not quite there yet. Anything that we might do, because we’re representing such a large membership, starts by reaching out to our community first to have a lot of conversations before we move the needle.”

Meanwhile, this year’s Canadian Screen Week is being planned against the backdrop of one major elephant in the room: Bill C-11, or the Online Streaming Act, whose purpose is partly to compel foreign entertainment giants like Netflix and Disney+ to contribute to the Canadian cultural sector. The intensely discussed piece of legislation was approved by the Senate last week, and now is back with the House for a final vote.

Conversation over C-11 and just what should and should not be considered Canadian storytelling has intensified in recent weeks partly due to the Canadian Academy’s big neighbour to the south, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose 2023 Oscar nominations included two nods for Toronto filmmaker Sarah Polley’s drama Women Talking. That production, which was shot in Ontario featuring several local performers and was adapted from a Canadian novel, isn’t considered a homegrown film under the Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office (CAVCO) criteria, given that it was financed outside the country. In other words: don’t expect Polley and her cast to dominate this year’s CSAs when nomination are announced Feb. 22.

“We’re looking forward to seeing what will happen with C-11, and these are passionate conversations to be had,” says Frick. “We’re anxious to see what comes out of these new policies and how that can affect our industry in a positive way.”