Last Sunday evening, Canada got possibly the most vocal attention it's ever received on the Academy Awards stage. Thanks to Oscar victories for the Toronto-shot The Shape of Water and a win for the Montreal-based visual-effects team for Blade Runner 2049, Canada was on the tip of several winners' tongues.
A week later, the homegrown entertainment industry will again find itself in the spotlight, though on a smaller scale, with the live gala telecast of the Canadian Screen Awards airing on CBC on Sunday. Don't expect any Guillermo del Toro speeches, though – the CSAs focus on work made by Canadians, for Canadians. Not that there aren't challenges in that mandate, administered by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.
Ahead of Sunday's awards, The Globe and Mail spoke with Beth Janson, chief executive of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television (ACCT) and deep into her second year of organizing the CSAs, to discuss how to best highlight an industry regularly eclipsed by Hollywood.
Films are eligible for the CSAs if they've played a week in a movie theatre, or been accepted into at least two Canadian film festivals. But how do you get audiences excited about films that they've maybe never heard of – films they've never even had the chance to hear of?
The challenge is, frankly, to prove to the [film] distributors that the Canadian Screen Awards are a valuable marketing tool for them. That's been our whole push since I came on board [in 2016]. Let's market the content, the people, the talent and be a marketing platform for these works. We're getting a lot more engagement on that front from average Canadians, with, for example, our Fan's Choice Award. Our whole industry needs to do more listening to the audience, and that goes from the broadcasters to the distributors to the production companies, because that's the future. We can't pretend our relationship to the audience is the same as it was 15 years ago.
And that fits in with exposing little-known films to the audience?
I think that's our challenge, and I know this doesn't exactly address the question of the films no one has seen, but what we're trying to do is support the artists. There's a lot of structures around our industry that we cannot change – but we can work within the system to promote the work. There's work coming out of our country that is truly excellent, and I think our nominations this year for best picture embody those characteristics.
Besides the Fan's Choice Award, how has the ACCT been engaging with audiences? What have you been hearing?
We're listening on social to what they're confused about, what they want to see more of. I hope that moving forward, the academy can take what people are telling us and be a conduit to the existing players in the industry, telling them, "Hey, have you considered this?" or, "People really want to see this." The main struggle in the industry now is around windowing [how long a film takes to be released in various formats], and how do you create a solid business model within that to give the audience what they want, when they want it, however they want to watch it.
There's also the question of the entry fees for Canadian filmmakers. I've spoken with a few who felt they couldn't justify the $720 cost, because they're working on microbudget films as it is.
We're going to be looking at eligibility rules really closely, and for a number of reasons. Part of the struggle is trying to figure out a way to be inclusive and not exclude someone, for instance, who has a tiny budget to make their film. How can we be inclusive of that work? We want to maintain the prestige of the awards, but we don't want to lose the voices that might be newer and that we're extremely excited about. Our cycle is that we begin addressing all these issues on April 1 after the awards are over, when you get to appeal to change the rules. I feel like this cycle is where we're ready to make some bigger changes.
Will this include looking at the number of awards categories? When you last spoke with us, you said 144 categories was too many.
There are 142 this year! So we've made great progress. [Laughs.] But I said that boldly, before I had meetings with our rules and regulations committee. It's also not that many when you think about what the CSAs cover: film, television and digital. I was looking at the Emmys last year, and it's more than 200 categories across the board. We have 94 television categories, which includes sports and news and documentary and reality and comedy and drama. It adds up. Still, there are some categories that are not necessarily incredibly important for an industry our size.
What are the lessons you took away from staging your first CSAs, which you're putting into action this year?
To just stop trying to be something we're not – and to celebrate who we are and what we're doing well. There's a lot of complaining that happens in our industry, but that's not something that happens with the fan base, the audience. So let's look at how we're doing globally, how we're doing this with an audience the size of California in terms of eyeballs. Let's celebrate what we're doing in an authentic way.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
The Canadian Screen Awards airs live March 11 at 8 p.m. ET on CBC-TV.