Beloved, homegrown stories won big Sunday night at the Canadian Screen Awards (CSA), with the hit Maud Lewis biopic Maudie, family sitcom Kim’s Convenience and Anne, CBC-TV’s revamped take on Anne of Green Gables, taking top prizes.
Representation was the catchword of the night, with projects led by women and those highlighting diverse storytellers in the winners’ circle at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.
“It is a time of change. Audiences are hungry. Representation matters. The power of this medium cannot be ignored,” Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, star of Kim’s Convenience and winner of best lead actor in a comedy for a second consecutive year, told reporters backstage.
“When we set this example and audiences see themselves reflected, it makes a big difference.”
CBC-TV productions dominated the television categories, with Kim’s Convenience named best comedy, Anne winning for best drama, Baroness von Sketch Show named best sketch comedy and Alias Grace crowned best limited series or program.
“Inclusion: that’s how you change things,” declared producer Noreen Halpern, one of the female creators behind Alias Grace. Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, the series was written by Sarah Polley, directed by Mary Harron and starred Sarah Gadon — also a winner Sunday night for her performance in the title role.
‘Inclusion: that’s how you change things.’ – Noreen Halpern, Alias Grace producer
“You change what people see on a set. You change what people see on their television sets and movie screens. That’s what we’re all really focused on,” Halpern said.
Aside from Kim’s star Lee, other repeat acting winners included Schitt’s Creek’s Catherine O’Hara (lead actress, comedy) and Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany (lead actress, drama). Meanwhile, Alexander Ludwig picked up best lead actor in a drama for his role on Vikings and Billy Campbell won best lead actor in a limited series or program for the detective series Cardinal.
Two important Indigenous stories took home documentary honours, with the late Gord Downie’s multimedia project The Secret Path — revisiting the life of Chanie Wenjack, who died trying to get home from residential school in 1966 — winning the Donald Brittain Award for best social-political documentary and the music documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World earning a trio of awards, including best feature-length documentary.
“It’s rare when you get to tell a story about Indigenous people that is surprising and not known,” director Catherine Bainbridge said of Rumble, which also earned acclaim at Sundance, Hot Docs and other film festivals.
“There are stories that none of us know and all of these stories are coming out now.”
Much love for Maudie
Maudie, the onscreen portrait of folk artist Lewis, took home the most hardware, picking up best picture and six other trophies. The Canadian-Irish co-production’s numerous CSAs included prizes for actors Sally Hawkins (lead actress) and Ethan Hawke (supporting actor) as well as the film’s director, Aisling Walsh.
Animated film The Breadwinner, another production led by women, also earned a raft of trophies on Sunday. The recent Oscar contender won four CSAs, including for Anita Doron’s screenplay adapted from Deborah Ellis’s bestselling novel about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to support her family in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
“Everybody on the team was making the same film [with] the same intention,” Doron told reporters backstage.
“The pain I feel is the same pain an Afghan girl feels, the same pain you feel,” she said. “Us and them, there’s no difference.”
The historical epic about Montreal Hochelaga, Land of Souls — which was Canada’s official Oscar entry for best foreign-language film — also earned four trophies, including for its cinematography.
Another Montreal production was singled out when Nabil Rajo, who starred in the contemporary crime drama-thriller Boost, won best lead actor in a feature film.
“Being an immigrant, there’s a stigma in our community that being an artist isn’t a valid career option. I’ve always had that doubt that maybe this wasn’t going to work out for me,” the Eritrean-born actor told reporters backstage.
“To be standing up there, I was like: this is a moment.”
The evening also included tributes for several distinguished Canadians being honoured for special achievement, including Atwood, Canadian actor-director Clark Johnson and CBC’s Rick Mercer and Peter Mansbridge, who spoke about the current climate in journalism onstage.
“Journalism is under threat in a way that we haven’t witnessed before. The very principle that we stand for is under attack: truth. Truth is under attack from those who have decided to label incredibly hard-working, professional journalists who tell real stories as fake. Nothing is more sacred in our industry than the truth,” said Mansbridge, who retired as chief correspondent of CBC News in 2017.
“The truth is what matters. The truth is all that matters.”
AfterMeToo in the spotlight
Canada’s AfterMeToo movement, which is working to address sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry, was another theme running through the evening. The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television distributed AfterMeToo pins on the red carpet and donated a 20-second commercial to the movement.
Founders Freya Ravensbergen, Mia Kirshner and Aisling Chin-Yee were in attendance at the show, while Atwood, as one of the night’s special award recipients, used some of her time onstage to discuss AfterMeToo and the change needed in the entertainment industry.
Backstage, the CanLit icon expanded by explaining that she is backing the movement as a financial supporter, by diverting proceeds from two upcoming events she’s involved in toward the AfterMeToo fund and also encouraging others to donate — all in hopes of following the example of Time’s Up in the U.S.
“Spreading the word means that more people hear about it and, in an ideal world, they will donate to it. No sum too small,” Atwood said.
Keeping AfterMeToo part of the conversation is important because, “this is not just a U.S. industry issue. It does happen here. We need to keep talking about it and we need to be finding our own solutions to it,” said academy CEO Beth Janson.
A week of celebrations
Hosted by Emma Hunter and Jonny Harris, Sunday’s gala brought the weeklong CSA festivities to a close, following a trio of award celebrations earlier this week.
The representation shown through Sunday night’s winners speaks volumes, according to Elise Bauman, co-star of web series Carmilla and recipient of the fan-voted Audience Choice Award (which her co-star Natasha Negovanlis captured last year).
“The entertainment industry is changing, but not rapidly enough,” said Bauman, whose series about a same-sex romance between a college student and a vampire has moved from three seasons online to a feature film to development for a prime-time series — all thanks to the support of its extremely devoted fanbase.
“If we want to see films and shows with inclusive representation both in front and behind this camera, we need to support those projects,” she said onstage.
“Seek out and watch projects made by and starring women, people of colour and LGBTQ people. Signal boost these projects to your network of friends,” Bauman urged the public.
“I believe we have the power to change the way we tell our stories and I believe you, the audience, plays a significant role in that change. Let’s get to it.”