Breaking down the 2017 CSAs

With the first of the Canadian Screen Awards ceremonies kicking off tonight, Playback looks at trends in this year's nominees.

The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television kicked off Canadian Screen Week on Monday with a star-studded reception for its Canadian Screen Award nominees at Toronto’s Ritz-Carlton. But the celebration doesn’t stop there. The Academy will hand out golden statues to CSA winners at four gala events throughout the week, including the live broadcast of the Screenies (or is it the “Candies”?), hosted by Howie Mandel, on Sunday. Here, Playback takes a look at the award categories and picks out three key trends dominating this year’s nominees list.

Mohawk Girls

Mohawk Girls

Indigenous players take the stage

There isn’t a better time to recognize Canada’s indigenous talent than in 2017, when creatives and producers celebrate the nation’s sesquicentennial. While there isn’t much to celebrate when it comes to the historical treatment of indigenous people, this year’s nominations reflect the largest-ever representation of aboriginal stories, actors and productions. It wasn’t accidental, given both Telefilm and the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television say they are cognizant of the shortfall, and worked to open up the national space to aboriginal voices.

Here are just a few of the players who were nominated: Filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk, of The Fast Runner fame, has his latest film – Maliglutit, an adaptation of John Ford’s The Searchers – nominated in the Best Film and Original Screenplay categories; KONELĪNE: our land beautiful is one of five competing in the Ted Rogers Best Feature Length Documentary category; Kwena Bellemare-Boivin and Jacques Newashish, both Atikamekw, are up for awards for their performances in Before the Streets (which is also shortlisted for Best Film); on TV, APTN has nominations in nine categories, including recognition for Mohawk Girls, The Pass System, Blackstone and aptn investigates: DEFIANCE; meanwhile TVO’s Survivors Rowe is nominated for Best Documentary Program and Tantoo Cardinal will receive the Earl Grey Lifetime Achievement Award on March 12.

Overall, thanks to efforts nationally, more indigenous work is being funded, which led to an increase in submissions, says Beth Janson, CEO of the Academy.There’s also been a greater effort to encourage indigenous applicants to submit their work. To increase the number of nominees even further, the Academy is working on a broader outreach and awareness program, she says. Since jury and membership changes each year, the goal is to encourage indigenous (as well as new) talent to apply again, even if a first or second attempt was unsuccessful.

Also on the agenda is a re-examination of the tiered-by-budget entry fees in an effort to make sure it is not prohibitively expensive for filmmakers.

And considering the increased focus on indigenous talent in the industry as a whole (which includes a bump in funding at Telefilm for work from Aboriginal Peoples and calls for a stand-alone indigenous screen office), here’s hoping this increase in nominees isn’t just a one-off, but rather the start of a trend.

- Sonya Fatah

Beat Bugs

Beat Bugs

Emergence of the SVODs

It started three years ago when Netflix won its first Emmy award for House of Cards. And as it and platforms like Hulu and Amazon grew their slates of original series, awards show dominance followed suit.

Now, the trend is making its way to Canada, with SVODs gracing this year’s CSA nominations for the first time.

Leading the pack is Letterkenny (New Metric Media), which secured eight nominations, including a shot at Best Comedy, Best Direction, and Best Editing (against the likes of CBC’s Kim’s Convenience and Schitt’s Creek). Not bad for what was once a low-budget YouTube series. The upcoming What Would Sal Do? (New Metric Media) nabbed three CSA nominations, which helped secure it a slot on Crave as its latest original.

And Crave isn’t the only new player on the list: Netflix’s Beat Bugs (Thunderbird) nabbed a nomination for Best Animation, while its Real Detective (WAM Media) picked up three, including one for Best Factual.

The nominees represent a new paradigm shift, says Janson. SVODs are here to stay.

With more Canadian content being developed for SVODs (including an upcoming Russell Peters original for Crave, and a dozen or so Canadian series on Netflix rolling out in 2017), their presence on the list is only set to grow.

If the Emmys are any indication (Netflix picked up an impressive 54 nominations this year, while Amazon netted 14), don’t be surprised if next year’s competition is even more fierce.

- Megan Haynes

Hello Destroyer

Hello Destroyer

O Canada?

In the Best Picture category, a common criticism at the Screenies is the lack of financial success. And yes, Canadian films have always struggled at the domestic box office.

But, with recent winners like 2015′s Xavier Dolan-directed Mommy ($3.3 million ahead of its nomination), or 2016′s Brooklyn (U.K./Canada copro, $4 million) and Lenny Abrahamson-directed Ireland/Canada copro Room ($1.3 million), it seemed like for a time, Canadian critical darlings were also financial ones as well. But alas, the good times didn’t continue.

In comparison, 10 films nominated for Screenies this year pulled in a collective $2.1 million here at home, as of press time.

Topping out the list, Race (Solofilm) is the biggest financial hit pulling in a reported $1.1 million at the Canadian box office. Coming up behind is Dolan’s heavily awarded Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only The End of the World, Sons of Manual), which pulled in $877,414 at home. The only other film to crack six figures was Coop Vidéo de Montréal’s Les mauvaises herbes (Bad Seeds), which pulled in $522, 558 since last year.

In comparison, four out of last year’s 10 nominees pulled in more than three times as much, with $7 million at the box office (by Feb. 2, 2016) collectively – and that doesn’t count the impressive $40 million at the U.S. box office, thanks in part to big names Room and Brooklyn.

The lack of heavy hitters isn’t to say the films aren’t without critical clout: Juste la fin du monde nabbed the Grand Prix in Cannes last year, while Globe and Mail critic Barry Hertz called this year’s crop among the most “innovative and exciting works of Canadian cinema to come along in ages,” pointing in particular to Zapruder Film’s Operation Avalanche, Tabula Dada and Type One’s Hello Destroyer and Art & Essai’s Ceux qui font les révolution à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau (Those who make revolution only halfway dig their own grave).

Here’s hoping next year’s crop are equally innovative and exciting, and, dare we dream it, financially successful.

- Megan Haynes

This article originally appeared in the 2017 Spring issue of Playback