Vancouver, Toronto critics fete filmmakers

Ashley McKenzie was one of several women celebrated at the TFCA's annual gala, while Kathleen Hepburn took home a trio of awards at the VFCC event.
Ashley McKenzie

January is a time for reflection and in the movie business, that means award season.

But just as the Golden Globes took on a more sombre tone in the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations rocking the film industry, so too did the annual Toronto Film Critics Association (TFCA) awards, which joined its west coast counterpart the Vancouver Film Critics Circle (VFCC) in celebrating 2017′s year in film this week.

In Toronto, host Cameron Bailey didn’t serve up his usual cadre of zingers and jokes and instead focused on the industry’s issues of sexual abuse, harassment and inequality.

“We’ve been telling jokes here for years and what we know is that in addition to the celebration that happens here every year – which is a necessary celebration of talent in film – we need to recognize that our industry is sick,” he told a packed room of filmmakers, critics, media (including Playback) and executives at The Carlu in Toronto on Jan. 9. “It’s not the only one but it’s the one in the spotlight right now and I think it’s the one that can lead [in making change].”

A bright and notable aspect of both the Vancouver and Toronto events was the prevalence of women receiving awards. In Vancouver on Jan. 8, Kathleen Hepburn’s debut feature Never Steady Never Still was the best Canadian film of the year, best British Columbia film and Hepburn was named best director of the year.

And in Toronto, the night’s three big Canadian awards involved women. Ashley McKenzie (pictured) took home the $100,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award for Werewolf , which follows two Cape Breton drug addicts who struggle to remain together while attempting to find a way out of their difficult reality. Meanwhile, Isabella Weetaluktuk was the emerging filmmaker selected by this year’s Technicolor Clyde Gilmour Award winner Zacharias Kunuk.

Bridging both shows was filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz, who took home the Stella Artois Jay Scott Prize in Toronto and the best documentary prize in Vancouver for her film Maison du Bonheur.

For the Rogers Best Canadian Film prize, McKenzie beat out fellow nominees Kevan Funk (Hello Destroyer) and Joyce Wong (Wexford Plaza), who both received $5,000 as runners-up. Last year, McKenzie won the $5,000 award for emerging artist (which she told the audience she used to buy a 2010 Toyota Corolla). Upon accepting this year’s award, she thanked the TFCA and Rogers for “literally changing lives,” and said she’d split the prize with producer Nelson MacDonald. “Since we graduated from university 10 years ago he has dedicated his life to helping me make films for little or no compensation. He’s made a lot of sacrifices to do that,” she said. “This is the most significant gift I’ll probably ever receive and I feel so happy that I can repay him and thank him.”

She also gave a shout out to Funk and Wong, and noted that all three nominees this year were first-time filmmakers. “When [Wong and Funk] talk to me about their ideas for their next films my brain starts to salivate. They both have really interesting philosophical minds and really sharp, provocative film ideas and I can’t wait to see what they do next.”

In Vancouver, another big winner was Cody Bown’s Gregoire. The film, about wayward Alberta youth, won three prizes, including one for Bown himself as “One to Watch” and two for the film’s actors: Morgan Taylor Campbell for best supporting actress in a Canadian film and Ben Cotton for best supporting actor in a Canadian film. Pascal Plante took home best screenplay for a Canadian film for Fake Tattoos.