Friday, February 8, 2019

The Problem With the Canadian Screen Awards - You Can't Watch the Films

Yesterday, the Canadian Screen Awards announced their nominees for both TV and movies for 2018. As a Canadian, and a film buff, I do feel it is my duty to keep up with Canadian film – at least as much as I can living from Ontario, where it’s harder – since we don’t have much of a film industry ourselves, and we don’t hear about Quebecois film as much as we should. As expected, it was those Quebecois films that dominated the Canadian Screen Award nominations – all five of the Best Picture nominees hail from Quebec. I don’t have a problem with that – as we all know since Atom Egoyan’s output has become erratic (a nice way of saying it) and David Cronenberg has all but retired, and Sarah Polley has taken a while to follow-up Stories We Tell, Quebecois cinema has dominated the Canadian landscape (there’s a reason our two biggest exports to Hollywood in recent years – Jean-Marc Vallee and Denis Villeneuve hail from Quebec) – unless you count international co-productions, like Maudie and Room – the films that have prevailed in the last two years.
There were certainly things to celebrate about the nominations yesterday – like the fact that three of the five Best Director nominees were women, or the presence of Indigenous People in several acting categories. Perhaps as a response to the wins for Maudie and Room in the last two years, the Academy went pretty much home grown this year in most of the nominees – even bigger productions with Hollywood stars like The Hummingbird Project (with Jessie Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgaard and Salma Hayek), Stockholm (with Ethan Hawke, Noomi Rapace and Mark Strong), Allure (with Evan Rachel Wood) came away with mainly “below the line” nominations.
But, there is a problem – and I think it’s one that the Canadian Screen Awards really need to fix if they are going to have any footprint in Canada (which, to be honest, they probably won’t). And that is simply this – it’s impossible to see most of the films nominated at this year’s awards. I would love to spend the next two months before the show diving into the Best of Canadian film – at least as they have defined it – by watching the nominees. Sadly, though, that won’t be possible.
Out of the five films nominated for Best Picture – only Chien de Garde (Family First) and Just a Breath Away are available to rent via ITunes. The are also the only two films nominated for Best Director you can see. For the 20 acting nominees – you can see a total of 6 of them. You can only see four of the ten nominated screenplays. You can only see two of the nominated documentaries. Put it another way – there are 43 features nominated for Canadian Screen Awards – and you can see 15 of them (or about 1/3). The ratio isn’t any better when you look at total nominations – because the films available makeup 39 out of the total of 113 nominations.
You cannot see The Great Darkened Days – nominated for 8 awards, including Picture, Director, Actor and Supporting Actress. Or A Colony, nominated for 7, including Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress. Or the other Best Picture nominee – Genesis. You cannot see the Indigenous hockey drama The Grizzlies – up for three awards – or the adaptation of the Best Selling (and now controversial) novel Through Black Spruce (from director Don McKellar) up for two awards. Or the intriguingly titled Slut in a Good Way up for three awards. Or the aforementioned co-productions of Stockholm or The Hummingbird Project – up for six awards a piece. Or Firecrackers – directed by Jasmin Mozaffari, one of the three women up for Best Director.
I will likely still try and catch up with what I can – yesterday I watched Chien de Garde, and liked (but didn’t love) it, and today I will likely see Just a Breath Away. Four-time nominee Octavio is Dead is available, and sounds intriguing (and stars Sarah Gadon, who I love) so even though I didn’t like director Soon-Yin Lee’s first film, Year of the Dog, I’ll see it. I like horror films so Our House may be worth a look. Sci-fi film Brown Girls Begins sounds interesting, as does Les Salopes or the Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin. Sashinka, Fake Tattoos and The Fireflies Are Gone could be interesting as well. The two documentaries I can see – Letter from Masanjia and Anthropocene – are also on my watch list. All of these are available on ITunes – I’ve also checked my cable’s VOD, Netflix and Crave. If more are available elsewhere, I’d love to know where.
And yet, I cannot help but think of this as opportunity lost. I mean, it would be different if I could head to a theater and see some of these films, but I can’t do that either. And many of these films haven’t really been released yet – they’ll be released in the coming months, either in a couple of theaters, or on VOD. But, if you actually want people to watch the show – and debate it – don’t you need to have a way for the people to see the movies nominated – and not in the weeks or months after the show, but leading up to it? Here I am, wanting to see the films, wanting to support Canadian films, wanting to pay money to see them, and yet, for the moment I cannot. How I can have any opinion of what should win or could win? How can I have any rooting interest in what is going on?
The Oscars are facing a ratings crisis, and trying everything they can think of to stop the slide. But even there, you can see almost everything nominated. In terms of the features nominated for the Oscars, I’ve seen all but 4 of them – Never Look Away, Mirai, Hale County This Morning, This Evening and Minding the Gap. Of those, I know I had to see both Mirai and Hale County at the Lightbox in the last couple of months, but missed them – and I may have had a chance to see Minding the Gap there this summer, and missed it as well. The only film I didn’t have a chance to see is Never Look Away – and even that one seems to be opening at the Lightbox before the Oscars.
But the vast majority of nominated films at the Oscars are either available right now for rental on VOD or are currently in theaters. If you cannot keep up with the Oscars, that’s on you. But for the Canadian Screen Awards? It’s nearly impossible to see the films nominated. And that’s a shame. The Canadian Screen Awards are always going to be niche – a small awards show, celebrating the worthy work done in our country. They will occupy an even smaller niche than they need to, until they figure out a way for people to actually see the films they nominate – and before the show airs.

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