A transformational decade for the Canadian Academy

How the Canadian Screen Awards are striving to reinvent themselves at the 10-year mark.

night raiders

It’s been 10 years since the Genie and Gemini Awards merged into the Canadian Screen Awards, but in many ways the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television is just getting started.

The organization has set out to transform the typical awards show format, which has universally seen a decline in audience for high-profile broadcasts such as the Oscars and Emmys. Louis Calabro, the Canadian Academy’s VP of programming and awards, says their objective is about “putting content first.”

“Before the pandemic hit, it wasn’t a secret that award shows were analyzing who they were, what they were and what they wanted to do,” he tells Playback.

The last two virtual Canadian Screen Awards were pre-recorded and shot “more like a documentary” to highlight the work of Canadian film and TV. The upcoming 2022 ceremony will take cues from the last two years, being pre-recorded once again due to the COVID-19 Omicron wave, but reflecting more of a studio production than previously seen. The stars of CBC sketch comedy TallBoyz are this year’s hosts.

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Calabro (pictured right) says the Canadian Academy has also done much inward work to make it “more accessible and inclusive than ever before.” That includes introducing membership subsidies, reducing entry fees and reexamining the language in its rules to ensure key creatives aren’t excluded from awards consideration by establishing some Canadian Screen Award categories as a “team award,” including Best Stunt Coordination.

One of the Canadian Academy’s most significant changes, according to Calabro, was incorporating the principles of the 2019 On-Screen Protocols & Pathways guide, commissioned by the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, to help the organization promote narrative sovereignty for First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. “That was a moment where you could feel things changing for the better,” he says.

Indigenous-led features have had a prominent role in the Canadian Screen Awards the last few years. Jeff Barnaby’s horror Blood Quantum led nominations in 2021 and earned the most awards in the film category, while Tracey Deer’s drama about the 1990 Oka Crisis Beans won Best Motion Picture and Best First Feature Film. Danis Goulet’s dystopian thriller Night Raiders (pictured at the top), meanwhile, tied with Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson’s Scarborough as the top-nominated films in 2022.

The Canadian Academy currently does not collect any race-based data as part of its entry process, so quantifying whether the level of diversity in its nominees has increased in recent years is difficult.

Calabro says the organization is open to collecting that data in the future, but it will “take a lot of conversation with different communities and to be very transparent in what we want to ask for.”

In the meantime, the Canadian Academy’s goal is to continue to transform so that it won’t require any type of diversity-specific initiatives for nominations, but to be naturally more inclusive to the talent base in Canada – something he says they’re already seeing in the current nominees.

“When you look at the TV category Best Direction, Drama Series… you say, ‘Yeah, that looks right. This is reflective of our country and our industry,’” he says, referring to nominees Charles Officer for CBC’s Coroner; the aforementioned Deer for Citytv’s Hudson & Rex; Sharon Lewis and Warren Sonoda for separate episodes of CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries; and Helen Shaver for History’s Vikings. “That’s the feeling you want.”

This article originally appeared in Playback’s Spring 2022 issue

Headshot: Louis Calabro, VP of programming and awards (photo credit: George Pimentel)