The 2012 Genie Awards are upon us once again with high hopes and low grumbling.
There are high hopes for a film industry perennially long on promise but short on delivery, and grumbling from critics who have watched the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, the organization responsible for the Genie and the Gemini Awards, struggle to live up to its claim that its awards are the “ultimate accolade” for Canadian films.
The most recent troubles at the Academy began with its failure to nominated Xavier Dolan’s I Killed My Mother and Ruba Nadda’s Cairo Time in the best picture category at its 2010 ceremony. Dolan’s film won multiple awards at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, was chosen to represent Canada at the Oscars in the foreign-language category and went on to win the best picture and best screenplay at the Prix Jutra (Quebec’s version of the Genies), yet the Academy saw fit to award the film only its Claude Jutra Award, for best first feature. Cairo Time, critically hailed as one of the finest films of 2009, received one nomination, for best costumes.
What compounded this oversight was the fact that 3 saisons, a micro-budget Quebec indie drama, which no one outside the Academy had seen, was nominated in the best picture category. (It didn’t receive distribution outside of Quebec nor a single Jutra nomination.) Consequently, in 2011, the entire 22-member board of directors of the Academy resigned and was replaced by a slimmed down 12-member board with Helga Stevenson, former head of the Toronto International Film Festival, as interim CEO.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. The awards began in 1949 as the Canadian Film Awards, when there were very few feature films to acknowledge. It was not until the mid-1960s that craft categories were handed out, but in true Canadian style, once films had been nominated, the winner was chosen by a handpicked “international” jury. Things got so bad that in 1973 Quebec filmmakers pulled out of the awards en masse and in 1974 they were cancelled altogether. To save further embarrassment to the industry, several producers and other concerned individuals opted for creating a professional Academy along the lines of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, responsible for the Oscars. In 1979 no awards were given out and in 1980 the Genie Awards were launched at a glittering gala held at Toronto’s Royal Alexander Theatre.
Things moved along smoothly for several years, but a new complaint was that in any one year a select film would receive the lion’s share of the nominations. In 1986 it was Denys Arcand’s The Decline of the American Empire, in 1987 it was Jean-Claude Lauzon’s Un Zoo la nuit (with 13 wins, which is still the record) and in 1989 Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal. It was becoming evident that the Quebec members of the Academy were voting in a block, so the nomination process was changed once again and a jury was appointed to oversee the process. Ironically, this didn’t help matters as the Quebec producers and filmmakers broke away from the Academy entirely and formed their own awards show in 1999.
The Academy gamely plowed ahead, dismissing the Jutras as a petulant gesture, yet it never seemed to regain its footing. During the 00s, it moved the date of the ceremony from the beginning of the year to the end of the year and back again, causing all sorts of confusion and diminishing the stature of the awards even more. Things got so bad that the CBC dropped the show and the Genie Awards were reduced to a one-hour clips-and-interview show broadcast on cable. One of the most damning quotes I heard during this time came from a local Toronto radio announcer who pronounced the Genies “a show no one watches about films no one has seen.”
Seen or not, English-Canadian filmmakers deserve a better break than they receive from the Academy. The Genies are now back on the CBC, which is a start, but one has only to watch the Jutras on Radio-Canada to notice the striking difference. In Quebec, filmmakers are treated with respect and it seems the whole industry turns out in its finest to celebrate. In the rest of Canada, filmmakers struggle to gain any sort of public recognition, and if 25 per cent of the audience attending the Genies this year had actually seen the films nominated, I would be very much surprised.
The truth of the matter is that no matter how much the Academy tries to get things right, the Genies will never be the “ultimate accolade” for a Canadian film. A win at the Cannes Film Festival or an Oscar nomination means so much more, including the possibility that the attendant publicity will increase the film’s box office gross. Winning a Genie is very nice of course, in a polite Canadian sort-of way, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot in the larger scheme of things.
This year, the films competing in the best picture category are: David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Café de Flore, Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar (also nominated for best foreign-language film at the Oscars), Ken Scott’s Starbuck and Larysa Kondracki’s The Whistleblower (View all the trailers for the best picture nominees here). The 2012 Genie Awards will be broadcast live on the CBC, Thursday, March 8 at 8 p.m. (8:30 in Newfoundland and Labrador) with hosts Andrea Martin and George Stroumboulopoulos.
I will be watching.