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Genies struggle to focus Canadian eyes on homegrown films
The Genie Awards, hosted by comedian Dave Foley of Kids in the Hall fame, are to be handed out in Ottawa Saturday night.
A festival devoted to screening Genie-nominated movies around the national capital region and the four-year-old Reel Canada program that brings Canadian films to high school students have run this week, in advance of the awards.
Both focus attention on what seems to be an uphill battle, trying to get English Canada to watch homegrown movies.
“In some ways we were inspired by the struggle in the ’70s to get CanLit into high schools and how hard people fought to make that happen,” Jack Blum, executive director of Reel Canada told CBC News. Now in its fourth year, Reel Canada has screened nearly 200 Canadian films to almost 20,000 students across Ontario and in Vancouver, beginning with films like The Red Violin and Away from Her.
“We have a wonderful body of work and it was time kids were introduced to these movies,” Blum said.
Actor and former Genie winner for scriptwriting Don McKellar says it is essential that young people be exposed to Canadian film.
“People have to be aware at [an] early age. It’s like learning language ó there’s Canadian language for film. It’s exciting, it reflects their culture, experience, it will make huge difference,” he said.
BenoÓt Pilon’s Ce Qu’il Faut pour Vivre (The Necessities of Life) goes into the Genie Awards this Saturday with eight nominations and a best picture win at Quebec’s Jutra Awards.
The film about an Inuit hunter confined to a Quebec sanatorium in the 1950s has earned star Natar Ungalaaq a best actor nomination and a best director nomination for Pilon.
Bernard …mond is competing for a best screenwriter Genie for his script, which details the cultural dislocation of the sick man and his tender relationship with an Inuit boy, who also has been wrenched from his family to recover from TB.
The film has been a critical darling, but has had nowhere near the box office legs of another best picture nominee, Passchendaele, Paul Gross’s story of a Canadian soldier in one of the First World War’s most tragic battles.
Passchendaele has already won the Golden Reel award, running for more than 15 weeks in some parts of Canada and earning $4.4 million.
It was a rare box office success for an English Canadian film. Domestic films suffer from inadequate distribution and lack the big-budget promotional hype that accompanies films out of Hollywood.
As always, the Genies attempt to focus attention on some rare gems of Canadian cinemas. This year’s best picture nominees include Amal, the story of an auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi who inherits a rich man’s estate.
The Hindi-language film directed by Richi Mehta won a dozen awards on the film festival circuit, but is little known by Canadian moviegoers.
Tout est Parfait, the French-language film about teen suicide, just opened in English Canada and Normal, Carl Bessai’s film about the fallout from a car accident, has come and gone almost without notice, despite being a best-picture nominee.
Lesser known films among nominees
The best actor and actress categories also highlight some little known films, though this year’s crop has drawn criticism for centring on well known names.
Well-knowns include Paul Gross, nominated for Passchendaele, and Christopher Plummer (for Emotional Arithmetic), but a surprise nominee was Aaron Poole in low budget film This Beautiful City.
Poole lost 37 pounds and had a dentist remove a crown in his mouth to play a recovering drug addict in the film, about five characters in Toronto’s west end whose lives become interconnected after a woman falls from her balcony.
“Johnny’s struggling to rid himself of his addiction and at the same time sustain the love he has for [his girlfriend] Pretty,” said Poole, who also acted as producer for the film.
“It’s hard to do that, he’s sucked back into the world of drugs, he self-medicates his schizophrenia and the combination of those three things is difficult to manage.”
Also nominated is Ungalaaq’s moving performance in The Necessities of Life, which struck especially close to home for the actor because his grandfather had suffered in the same TB epidemic.
Well-known actresses Ellen Burstyn in The Stone Angel, Susan Sarandon in Emotional Arithmetic have nominations but the awards also focus attention on Quebec’s outstanding Isabelle Blais and Bollywood actress Preity Zinta.
Part of the Genie Awards ceremony will be broadcast Saturday at 9 p.m. on Global.