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Ararat, director Atom Egoyan's study of truth and reconciliation that shifts between wartime events of 1915 and the present, has taken five of its nine Genie Award nominations, including best picture.

The 23rd annual Genies were handed out at a black-tie gala televised live on CBC last night.

Arsinée Khanjian was named best actress for her role in Ararat. Along with comic actor Peter Keleghan, Ms. Khanjian served as co-host for the event. Her husband, Mr. Egoyan, was not scheduled to attend; he's heading the jury at the Berlin Film Festival.

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David Cronenberg was named best director for his psychological drama Spider, starring Ralph Fiennes. In a set of ironies that can happen only at a major film awards event, Mr. Egoyan was not even nominated in the director category, while Spider failed to make the best-picture nominees list. The director award was Spider's only Genie.

The best-actor trophy went to popular Quebec star Luc Picard for his mesmerizing performance as deadly real-life 1980s cult leader Roch Theriault in Savage Messiah. Although filmed in English for television, the story was so notorious to Quebeckers that it was dubbed back into French and released in theatres in the province, where it was a box-office draw.

Mr. Picard beat out veteran and front-running contender Christopher Plummer and newcomer David Alpay, both from Ararat.

Best supporting actor was Ararat's Elias Koteas. Supporting actress honours went to Pascale Montpetit, who played one of the cult victims in Savage Messiah.

Ararat's other Genies were for music score (Mychael Danna) and costume design (Beth Pasternak).

Savage Messiah also won for Sharon Riis's adapted screenplay. Speaking backstage, Ms. Riis did not sound encouraged by her win.

"According to my agent, it means you'll get no work," she said, adding that she recently won a Gemini Award and was out of work for some time. "It's Canada. It is an odd bloody country."

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Best-film contender Bollywood/Hollywood, a whimsical cross-cultural romantic comedy, won a best-original-screenplay award for its director, Deepa Mehta.

Between Strangers was another leading contender with five nods, but came away with a sound award. The drama about the intersecting lives of several emotionally troubled women starred Sophia Loren and was directed in Toronto by her son Edoardo Ponti. Anne Wheeler's sexy comedy Suddenly Naked, starring Wendy Crewson, had six nominations. It won for best editing.

Two other best-picture nominees, Sturla Gunnarsson's Rare Birds and first-time feature filmmaker Ricardo Trogi's Quebec-Montreal, came away empty-handed, as did Men With Brooms, Red Green's Duct Tape Forever, Fubar, Turning Paige, Le collectionneur and Flower & Garnet, although that film's director, Keith Behrman, received the Claude Jutra Award, given each year for a filmmaker's debut feature.

Special honorary awards were handed out to Heritage Minister Sheila Copps and to Cinémathèque Québécoise founder Robert Daudelin, both for their "significant contributions to the Canadian film industry." Rudy Buttignol, chairman of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, cited Ms. Copps's success in "endorsing the creative efforts and . . . finding the much-needed funding for the promotion, production and release of Canadian motion pictures."

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