By Munir Ahmed
Special to SAF
Activity at the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television resembles a busy movie set these days. Of course there is order beneath all the visible chaos when you have an A-team led by CEO Helga Stephenson, former head of the Toronto International Film Festival for seventeen years.
“These awards will spread awareness of Canada’s multicultural and indigenous output for the screen: Including cinema, TV, and the web,” says Helga Stephenson. “Let’s encourage Canadians to engage in conversations about our artistic strengths.”
The Academy’s first-ever Canadian Screen Awards, announced in 2012, combines the old Genie award for film and Gemini award for TV into a single national CBC – TV televised event on Sunday, March 3 2013 at 8 p.m. It will be hosted by Martin Short, Canada’s King of Comedy.
Reinvention is nothing new nowadays. South of the border, even this year’s mouthful ‘85th Academy Awards’ was been rebranded simply as ‘The Oscars’.
Artists play a very important role in society because great story-telling is a rare gift that helps us communicate about the human condition. Artists continually help guide popular culture, holding a mirror to society. Perhaps this holding the mirror business is exactly what creators of the film Goon had in mind. Goon is a comedy, about hockey violence: A herculean bouncer is chosen to play enforcer on a hockey team to split your sides. Canadian Jay Baruchel plays his sidekick who, among other things, suggests the most controversial number for a hockey jersey in history: 69.
Anita Majumdar plays the character of Emerald in the Deepa Mehta directed film, Midnight’s Children, an international film that premiered at TIFF and is nominated for best picture at the Canadian Screen Awards. Being a graduate of the National Theatre School, Anita Majumdar also represents our Theatre. So I asked her what representing Canada in cinema means for the actresses?
“To me representing Canada in films is about looking at our world with new eyes,” she says. “Understanding the experiences of people from distant lands not as an economic interest to usurp and/or colonize, but to witness with honestly and truth and without complacency. Because ultimately the population that makes up Canada, is not originally from here. There is a history of immigration that makes up the foundation of this country and in order to understand ourselves, we must look outside ourselves. This is why I think Midnight’s Children is inherently a Canadian story. This story of a young man who is searching for a place to call home and finally finds a family in the people who aren’t related to him by blood, but rather through a search for a better life, that is a Canadian story,” she adds.
There is a strong positive outlook being exuded by our artists. I asked Sitara Hewitt, best known as Rayyan Hamoudi in CBC Television’s Little Mosque on the Prairie, about what she sees her role as an actress, for Canadian women?
“I follow my heart in my career, and if what I do resonates with other women or inspires them in some way then I am glad,” says Sitara. “As well as acting I write, and am building a well-being brand, that will hopefully inspire others to live their most vibrant life. I believe it is up to each of us to do our best each day, and hopefully uplift all those around us,” she adds.
Artists do have an entrepreneurial spirit and one can explore Sitara’s well-being brand through twitter, @SitaraHewitt.
So how do Canadian actors feel about award ceremonies?
“As an actor it feels great to be appreciated by your peers in the industry, and by audiences,” says Toronto actor Saad Siddiqui, from Ruba Nadda’s Inescapable and David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. Both films played at TIFF last year and both were surprisingly trumped by Kim Nguyen’s Rebelle (War Witch) which was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at The Oscars. “I’m not sure how much competition exists. Doesn’t really cross my mind at all. I don’t act for awards, I act to bring great stories and interesting characters to the big screen,” Saad adds.
Popular suggestions for the new award name have included Caesar after the Canadian cocktail drink, and Geminie combining the old award names of Gemini and Genie. I’m rooting to call these awards ‘The Marys” after actress Mary Pickford, Canadian pioneer in filmmaking and one of the original founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that hosts the Oscars. About time we have a major screen award named after a woman. Also, just imagine all those ‘creative’ exclamations like “Hail Mary!” and such. Fingers crossed.
By Munir Ahmed