Canadian Film has been suffering an identity crisis for a long time. It seems at least once a year – often around the time of the Genie Awards – someone writes an article about the various problems with our national cinema: the complicated financing, the unwillingness of Canadians to support their own movies, the rarity of getting our movies recognized on an international level, the struggle for English Canadian cinema to succeed in quality as much as its French Canadian counterpart, and the challenges of juggling art versus commerce.
There seems to be a constant cloud of defeatism over Canadian Cinema. It seems like we’re being perpetually reminded something’s wrong with it, whether it’s the Ottawa Citizen asking “Who’s afraid of Canadian film? We are” or the Times Colonist pointing out “[the] lingering problem with Canadian cinema may well be that it’s, well, Canadian.”
That’s why it was such a pleasure attending the 32nd Annual Genie Awards with our resident Saturday Night at the Movies host, Thom Ernst. Held at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto, the event was one of the few times and places where there were no doubts or hesitancy about Canadian film – only celebration, appreciation and encouragement. Whether it was the Cocktail Party prior to the Broadcast, the show itself, or the Gala Party afterwards, the evening seemed to be practically buzzing with excitement, mutual support and Canadianness. Everyone seemed to be proud of their work, proud of each other’s work, and proud to be Canadian filmmakers and film supporters – no ifs, ands, or buts.
It helps of course that Canadian films are making it increasingly easier to celebrate. The quality of movies in the last several years seem to be compounding into critical mass that might very well tip us into a full-fledged Renaissance and more attention. People seem to be starting to notice, whether it’s the critical success of Sarah Polley’s Away From Her, the Oscar Nominations for Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar (the former making many International Critics’ Top 10 of the Year lists), the critical success of Café de Flore and the box office success of Starbuck.
It was Monsieur Lazhar, Café de Flore and Starbuck that shone last night at the Genie Awards, in a memorable night that was deftly hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos. Monsieur Lazhar in particular cemented its reputation as the best Canadian film had to offer this year by winning Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay. There were many memorable moments throughout the evening – including Viggo Mortensen’s amusing acceptance speech that revealed him to be a Montreal Canadians fan – but the one that stuck the most appropriate note for the evening was Monsieur Lazhar director, Philippe Falardeau, acceptance speech for winning Best Director.
He shared his award with his fellow Canadian filmmakers, encouraging them to make personal films to “[be] persistent. Be wild. Be bold. Be a little delinquent. Take risks, and something good is bound to happen.”
With the debate around Canadian cinema all too often being centered on how to get a movie seen, and how to make it as commercially viable as possible, it was a refreshing reminder that we Canadian filmmakers should never lose sight of what is most important: making unique, good stories and films. If Monsieur Lazhar – along with Away From Her, Starbuck and Incendies – are proving, if you do that, then the appreciation will come.
For more on Canadian Cinema, check out Thom’s The Top 6 Canadian Films of 2011 List and his consideration of whether Canadian films are getting better or are we just learning to appreciate them.