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CBC deserves booby prize for Canadian Screen Awards by Martin Knelman

Mar 11, 2014

Film nominees were slighted in race to wrap up Screen Awards telecast rather than delay The National by even a few minutes.

Source: Toronto Star

Is there any other country in the world where the creators of the outstanding movies of the year could be pushed out of the spotlight by that country’s public broadcaster, just at the climactic moment when the nominees for the top prize of the night are about to have the titles of their movies announced on prime-time national TV?

I doubt it, but that’s what happened Sunday night when the CBC telecast the final night of the Canadian Screen Awards from the Sony Centre in Toronto.

O Canada, how can we sustain an arts and entertainment industry if the CBC, which is supposed to be the champion of our cultural scene, sabotages it at the most crucial moment of the year?

Sunday’s nationally televised bash should have been a triumphant night for this country’s vibrant and thriving film and television industry. The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television built up momentum through a week jam-packed with buoyant off-air events celebrating achievements.

This was the year when everything seemed to be coming up roses for this key organization, revamped, reinvented and rescued by Helga Stephenson, its new CEO, after sliding into decline, debt and irrelevance a few years ago.

Sunday needed to be a glorious climax not just for the Academy and people who work in the industry but for the CBC, which signalled good intentions by giving the final round of prize-giving a prime slot of air time. Prospects seemed favourable, especially with the high-spirited Martin Short returning as host.

Instead the show turned out to be an embarrassing botch marked by gaffes and miscues, including the mysterious disappearance of Short for more than half an hour and many bizarre decisions about sequence, pacing and which awards should be excluded from the broadcast.

Accepting a lifetime achievement award, David Cronenberg gave an excellent speech, but Viggo Mortensen’s ill-planned intro ate up too much time, leading to the fiasco of the show’s final minutes.

To the CBC’s shame, two other giants of film and TV history, Ted Kotcheff and Colm Feore, were excluded from the broadcast even though they also received lifetime achievement awards from the Academy this year, and both are key figures in the annals of CBC Television itself.

I’m still reeling from the CBC’s display of incompetence and lack of respect for many talented people whose achievements deserve to be recognized. And I feel sure I am not alone in shaking my head in sadness and disbelief.

Almost unbelievably, the audience was never given the list of the eight nominees for best Canadian motion picture of 2013. So for the record, here are the titles: The Auction, Empire of Dirt, Enemy, The F Word, Gabrielle, The Grand Seduction, Maina, Tom at the Farm. We should have seen clips from all of them.

Instead the envelope was hastily ripped open, we were told Gabrielle had won — and then the winners were given exactly 20 seconds to accept the award.

All of which seemed more of an insult than a celebration.

But, hey, I understand there are two sides to everything. The show was running a few minutes late, so brutal last-minute cuts had to be made. Clearly, it’s not as if an arts awards show could be allowed the leeway of just about any sports event that runs late.

In this case, the network was not willing to delay The National by a few minutes, even though anyone who needed to see news could have done so on any number of channels.

No doubt this awards show would have been vastly better had it been produced by industry hands within the Academy itself, as the Oscars are, rather than rigidly controlled in every detail by the network airing it.

I’m optimistic that Heather Conway, the CBC’s new executive vice-president in charge of English services, will find a way to fix this problem and transform the Canadian Screen Awards into a classy night both the CBC and the Academy can be proud of.

This awards show needs more breathing room. If there is only one event highlighting both films and TV, it should run an hour longer. Everyone involved needs to be reminded the point of this exercise is to respect and honour talent.

How terrible would it be if The National came on at 11 p.m. one Sunday night in March every year?

© Toronto Star