The Genie Awards may be for Canadian films, but this year's list of nominees, announced yesterday in Ottawa, are particularly notable for the attention they have received elsewhere.
For example, The Necessities of Life (Ce qu'il faut pour vivre), about the tuberculosis epidemic of the mid-1900s and its effect on an Inuit family, led with eight Genie nominations, including best picture and best original screenplay. Necessities was Canada's entry for an Academy Award for best foreign-language film, but it ultimately failed to get nominated.
Nevertheless, that pre-Oscar process created more interest in the U.S. than this gentle, subtle film might have otherwise received, particularly given that it is in Inuktitut and French and subtitled throughout. And the Genie nominations can only help its theatrical run in English Canada, scheduled to begin next week.
Other leading Genie contenders include Everything Is Fine (Tout est parfait), a film about a young man dealing with the suicide of friends that is squarely at home in the high realism of Quebec cinema. It's nominated for best picture, as well as six other categories. Paul Gross's heavily promoted war epic Passchendaele, the modern-day Indian fable Amal, the 1960s family drama Mommy is at the Hairdresser's ( Maman est chez le coiffeur) and the story of a man's haunting Second World War past, Fugitive Pieces, all received six nominations each.
"It's a very diverse slate of nominees," said Sara Morton, chief executive officer of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. "There's a very strong showing from the West with Normal, Fugitive Pieces, Passchendaele. ... And then it's quite diverse in terms of language. There's a good split between English and French, of course. But then one of the films is in Hindi [ Amal]and another one is in Inuktitut."
Other notable nominees include Guy Maddin's eccentric pseudo-documentary My Winnipeg and Yung Chang's acclaimed Up The Yangtze, which are both competing for best documentary against Jean-Claude Labrecque's Infiniment Québec. The situation drama Young People Fucking - which sparked lots of news coverage for its name, but less for its actual relationship-based storyline - was inconspicuous, receiving a single nomination for Kristin Booth as best supporting actress.
Meanwhile, the international flavour continues with contenders such as Deepa Mehta's drama on spousal abuse in the South Asian immigrant community, Heaven On Earth. It is up for best original screenplay and has given Bollywood superstar Preity Zinta a Genie nomination for best lead actress.
Or take Amal, which is also up for best motion picture. Following the story of an auto-rickshaw driver caught in a tangle of riches that crosses the usual class divides in Delhi, the film received good press when it played the Toronto International Film Festival in 2007, and good reviews during its Canadian theatrical release last summer.
But the film has also won at least 20 awards on the international festival circuit and has helped to strengthen the bond between Canadian and Indian cinema.
A Genie nomination, beyond simply a pat on the back from the Canadian film community, gives films such as Amal more heft when negotiating distribution deals abroad, said Toronto-based David Miller, one of Amal's producers.
"I think in Canada, we don't always look at how the rest of the world sees the films that we make here. We make unique films that are accepted abroad. Amal has been lucky. We've been acknowledged by a number of countries all over the world," Miller said.
"Now that we're trying to get into the U.S., something like the Genies means a lot. And it's something that we can take to U.S. distributors and say that not only were we successful in our domestic theatrical release, but we're actually being recognized by our peers."
Picks and pans
THE EGREGIOUS OVERSIGHT
How did the judges leave out Jan Kaczmarek's haunting music for Paul Gross' Passchendaele from best original score?
THE RACE TO WATCH
Best documentary. With nominations for Infiniment Québec , My Winnipeg and Up The Yangtze this one will be a doozy.
THE HARD NUMBERS
With the exception of Passchendaele, which has grossed more than $4-million, many of the nominated films did not last more than two weeks at Canadian cinemas - if they were screened at all.
Selected Genie nominees
BEST MOTION PICTURE
Amal, The Necessities of Life ( Ce qu'il faut pour vivre), Normal, Passchendaele, Everything is Fine ( Tout est parfait)
Bernard Émond, The Necessities of Life; Deepa Mehta, Heaven on Earth; Travis McDonald, Normal; Randall Cole, Real Time; Guillaume Vigneault, Everything Is Fine.
ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTION
Richie Mehta, Amal; Lyne Charlebois, Borderline; Benoit Pilon, The Necessities of Life; Carl Bessai, Normal; Yves-Christian Fournier, Everything is Fine
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR
in a leading role Paul Gross, Passchendaele; Rupinder Nagra, Amal; Christopher Plummer, Emotional Arithmetic; Aaron Poole, This Beautiful City; Natar Ungalaaq, The Necessities of Life
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Normand D'Amour, Everything is Fine; Benoit McGinnis, Le Banquet; Callum Keith Rennie, Normal; Rade Sherbedgia, Fugitive Pieces; Max Von Sydow, Emotional Arithmetic
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE Isabelle Blais, Borderline; Ellen Burstyn, The Stone Angel; Marianne Fortier, Mommy is at the Hairdresser's ( Maman est chez le coiffeur); Susan Sarandon, Emotional Arithmetic; Preity Zinta, Heaven on Earth
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE Céline Bonnier, Mommy is at the Hairdresser's; Kristin Booth, Young People Fucking; Eveline Gélinas, The Necessities of Life; Anie Pascale, Everything is Fine; Rosamund Pike, Fugitive Pieces