When the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television (ACCT) announced the nominations for this year’s Genie Awards last month, the press conference was hardly star-studded. People certainly didn’t gather around the water cooler at work and debate who got robbed of recognition or who’s sure to be best dressed like they did on January 24th, the morning that the Oscar nominations were announced.
In fact, it’s almost a guarantee that while eager cinephiles were rushing out to see all of the newly-nominated Oscar films, only a handful of those same people would seek out the Genies nominees; that is, if they could even find them playing on a nearby big screen.
While countries like the UK and Australia are able to not only sustain their own homegrown industry with successful local films but also celebrate it with highly-rated televised award shows, Canada struggles to stand up to our big brother to the south, both at the box office and certainly when it comes to putting on a glitzy trophy ceremony.
It’s a problem that the ACCT has attempted to solve over the last few years by nominating more recognizable films and luring bigger-name celebrities to add some glamour to the proceedings. They’ve also altered the selection process in order to widen the field of films that are eligible. But ultimately, will it make a difference? After all, aren’t all award shows, Brad Pitt-big or Scott Speedman-small, kind of formulaic?
The Oscars: This award show employs a complicated system that involves having its members vote for their top 5 favourite films in their own category (in other words, writers vote for writers, directors vote for directors, etc). Then, the choices are ranked in preferential order. The films that get the final nominations are determined by an equation that involves dividing the number of members in each category by 6, then taking that resulting number and eliminating any films that don’t have at least that number of votes ranking them as a number one choice. For a film to be eligible, it must have run theatrically between January 1 and December 31 of the previous year.
The Genies: Determined by 2 appointed committees consisting of performers, writers, directors, producers, scholars, and critics from a pool of films that have paid a fee and been submitted for consideration. For a film to be eligible, it must have either run for at least one week theatrically or played at two film festivals during the previous year.
The Verdict: The Oscars may offer a larger pool of films from which to choose, but the complicated voting system ensures that not all of the films that rise to the top are necessarily the best of the best (The Help, anyone?). The Genies rely on expert opinion, but that also leaves room for decisions based not only on what makes a great film, but what might draw an audience to watch the ceremony.
The Oscars: It’s a star-studded line-up this year, as usual. The 10 films up for Best Picture feature a whole host of Hollywood superstars, including at least a couple of films by directors who are household names. That said, there are a few titles whose worthiness both critics and cinephiles would dispute.
The Genies: Four out of the five nominees were named in Canada’s Top 10 and, of those, Monsieur Lazhar is also nominated for an Academy Award. Celebrity-wise, only A Dangerous Method and The Whistleblower deliver but it might mean a slight ratings boost if actor nominees Rachel Weisz, Viggo Mortenson, and Michael Fassbender were to show up on the red carpet.
The Verdict: There’s no way for the Genies to compete with the star power that the Oscars offer up, but at least the Genies’ choices are more in line with what Canadian critics chose as the films most worthy of accolades. That may not translate into ratings, but at least they have their dignity.
The Oscars: Oscar nominated films get an instant box office boost which is great for films like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a wannabe prestige picture that was taking a trouncing from critics but saw an uptick in ticket sales after it became a Best Picture hopeful.
The Genies: All 5 nominated films only received a limited release (although The Whistleblower is now out on DVD) so even if Canadian audiences wanted to seek them out, they’d have a hard time outside a major city.
The Verdict: Distributors take advantage of Oscar nominations to give their films a boost and bring in a whole new audience, so why can’t the same be said for Genie-nominated films? It’s pretty simple: people don’t want to watch a show rewarding movies they haven’t seen.
The Oscars: Clooney, Pitt, Streep, The Muppets need I go on?
The Genies: The biggest celebrities up for nominations aren’t even Canadian.
The Verdict: Again, there’s no way for the Genies to compete with the Oscars in this arena, but is adding more star power really the only answer to attracting viewers? Let’s not forget that the Oscars are losing more and more viewers each year, so clearly stacking the deck with recognizable actors isn’t a sure bet.
The Oscars: Tens of millions of people worldwide tune in each year despite complaints of the Academy being out of touch with the movie-going public, and the ceremony being overly and slow-moving. That’s not likely to change anytime soon.
The Genies: Despite the addition of celebrity hosts and attempts at making the ceremony sexier, the Genies continue to pull in dismal ratings. That’s not likely to change anytime soon, either.
The Verdict: It’s a bigger issue than just getting people to watch the Genies. We need to use the awards as a sort of bull-horn for homegrown filmmaking, and we need to give people in smaller towns access to the nominated films. If you build a healthier homegrown film industry, the Genie viewers will come.
The 32nd Genie Awards ceremony airs March 8 on CBC.