The Canadian Screen Awards have been positioned as the country’s most esteemed honour for homegrown film, television and digital media.
But while in-person celebrations return this week for the first time in four years, the usual splashy televised marquee gala has been scrapped for a prerecorded show Sunday on CBC and CBC Gem.
Four days of events begin Tuesday in Toronto where awards will be handed out at seven genre-based bashes. That includes the best picture prize on Thursday and best TV drama and best TV comedy on Friday, which in previous years had been reserved for the Sunday telecast.
Here’s a look at five things to watch for during Canadian Screen Week.
Combined acting categories
The Screen Awards are going with gender-neutral acting categories this year, with organizers explaining it as a bid to better accommodate gender non-conforming performers, including those who may not identify as male or female.
The move eliminates separate prizes for best actor and actress in several film and TV races but expands the list of nominees to eight, from five.
For instance, two previous TV categories that celebrated best lead comedy actor and actress are now combined into a single race for “best lead performer” in a comedy.
TV comedy nominees include the stars of CBC’s dramedy Sort Of, which follows a gender-fluid millennial navigating work and romantic relationships. Bilal Baig is up for the best lead performer trophy and co-star Amanda Cordner is vying for best supporting performer.
After the 2023 nominations were announced in February, Baig spoke about declining to submit for last year’s awards.
“It was a gender category and I’d feel uncomfortable if I was nominated, it’s just facts,” Baig told The Canadian Press.
“I really was not trying to change the whole system – the awards are cool and it’s a great celebration but I was just trying to be real with myself.”
The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television will run seven genre-based awards shows Tuesday through Friday.
In prepandemic days, the week was capped by a live televised broadcast. This year there will be a pretaped highlights show hosted by Samantha Bee, airing days after the winners will have been announced.
Louis Calabro, the academy’s vice-president of programming and awards, has said the organization wanted a curated show to better engage audiences. He said the show will incorporate celebrity interviews and highlights from preceding galas.
Still, news of the change did not sit well with some industry notables.
TV veteran and Schitt’s Creek co-creator Eugene Levy, whose CBC sitcom nabbed eight trophies in 2021, acknowledged many awards shows can feel long for some viewers.
But the Hamilton-born actor said Canadian creators deserve their moment on stage, at a live celebration.
“It’s important for the Canadian entertainment industry to not have it in an abridged form,” Levy said in an interview before the 2023 nominations were announced.
“I don’t think it does justice to the industry that you’re supposed to be serving.”
Highest-nominated TV show cancelled
A day after earning a leading 19 nominations including best TV drama series, The Porter said it would end with a single season.
At the time, executive producer Jennifer Kawaja said the CBC greenlit and supported a second season “until the bitter end” but its U.S. partner BET Plus passed on backing more episodes.
Inspired by true events, The Porter followed the story of Black train porters in 1920s Montreal, Detroit and Chicago who attempt to secure safer working conditions.
Co-creator Arnold Pinnock described the show’s end as painful and “very, very disheartening.” He said he hoped the nominations would compel networks to support more shows like The Porter.
Scarborough-set film leads big screen nominees
Brother, based on the David Chariandy novel, is the leading film nominee with 14 nods including best motion picture and best director for Clement Virgo.
Set in a 1991 version of Scarborough, an eastern part of Toronto, Brother is the story of two young Jamaican-Canadian men coming to terms with who they are and how to navigate the joys and dangers they face at every turn.
“I wanted to honour immigrant parents,” Virgo, one of Canada’s foremost Black film directors, said when he brought the film to the Toronto International Film Festival last September.
“When I read David’s novel, it felt different and familiar to me. His characters functioned optimally and it felt very personal.”
“Brother” stars Aaron Pierre of Prime Video’s The Underground Railroad and Scarborough-born Lamar Johnson from the 2018 film The Hate U Give and HBO’s The Last of Us, on Crave.
“This is very special to me, especially with it being the Canadian academy,” Johnson said when the nominees were announced in February.
“Me being a Canadian boy, being born and bred here and this being my first real nomination, I would say I’m really grateful.”
A special award for Lisa LaFlamme
Veteran news anchor Lisa LaFlamme will be feted with the Gordon Sinclair Award for broadcast journalism, a special Screen Award to recognize an exceptional body of work.
She’s also up for best national news anchor for her work on CTV National News with Lisa LaFlamme, against Dawna Friesen of Global National News and Adrienne Arsenault, Ian Hanomansing and Andrew Chang of CBC’s The National.
As originally reported by the Toronto Star, LaFlamme submitted herself for awards consideration after her acrimonious split with CTV in August, 2022.
At the time, Bell Media described the end of her contract as a “business decision” while LaFlamme said it left her “blindsided.” The ouster sparked a public outcry and an independent third-party review of the CTV national newsroom.