Thoughts on Canadian Film
By Jess Skinner
The concept of “genies” arose from pre-Islamic-Asian-Mid-Eastern folklore; “djinni,” as they were called, were spirits defined by their invisibility or penchant for seclusion. In America, the concept was most recognizably bastardized (i.e. Americanized) as a cheerfully offensive vehicle for Robin Williams. In Canada, our home and native land, the name has been awkwardly tacked onto our annual film awards. Okay, jokes aside, I did try to uncover the origins of the name to bring some clarity, but any semblance of an answer is unavailable from their website. So I am convinced they just do not want me to know.
Just because the ceremony creates more curiosity than impact doesn’t mean that it is irrelevant. We need to realize how many decent and memorable flicks have been produced in this unforgivable climate. You have your cult freak-outs, Scanners, Black Christmas, etc. Idiot comedies — Porky’s, one of the very best in the genre. Thanks again, Bob Clark.
Now aware of this, you can begin to understand that rarely does the nominating committee have to scrape through obscure titles to fill its ballot. In terms of elitist tastes…Meatballs made the final five in 1980. Nevertheless, this year’s Best Motion Picture category boasts international hits Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg) and Away From Her (Sarah Polley), as well as genuinely notable productions The Age of Darkness (Denys Arcand), Continental (Stéphane LaFleur), and Shake Hands With the Devil (Roger Spottiswoode). I can confess to having seen only Eastern Promises and Age of Darkness and having liked neither, although purely in matters of taste. There are two kinds of bad films, right? The ones that just don’t do what you’d like, and the ones that are bad. It is clear from the nominees that at the very least our national film award givers do know their asses from any hole in the ground.
Free from the shackles of having anyone really give a damn, the committee can create a ballot with actors occupying broad degrees of fame. This range peaks with Viggo Mortenson and slides down past The Guy Who Was in that Movie I Saw, finally halting at I Have No Idea Who That Is/How to Pronounce His Name. The benefit? The same goddamn people do not keep getting nominated over and over again. Meryl Streep gets nominated almost bi-annually now so you know if she wins it will mean jack. Give the hard-working semi-nobodies a new, oddly-shaped trophy to add to their collection. I am sure Danny Glover, this year up for best supporting actor (in Poor Boy‘s Game), appreciates the attention. He sure isn’t getting any love south of the border for The Shaggy Dog.
Other curiosities include Ellen Page up for The Tracey Fragments instead of Juno, or for that matter Juno being disregarded altogether. This despite its Canadian cast (which includes Michael Cera, meaning I lost a $10 bet pertaining to his nationality) and director, Jason Reitman. If they need to differentiate themselves from the American critical flock I would suggest shutting out the unpleasant Eastern Promises, but that’s just my opinion.
Really, the Genies are a good way to create organization in this our country’s somewhat muddled film canon. Pivotal masterpieces like Nobody Waved Good-Bye (Don Owen, 1964) and Les Ordres (Michel Brault, 1974) exist but are rarely seen or talked about outside academia. At least the academics are sticklers for preservation. I believe there is value in recognizing the (admittedly scattershot) history of quality Canadian cinema. Not quality in that Goin’ Down the Road, aren’t-we-adorable kind of way, but films that buffs can really sink their teeth into. A lot of people loved Eastern Promises and good for them; our miniature industry can be held in the same mentioning any forward-thinking critic cares to emit about the future of the medium.