The Indiescreen Awards Zoom Out
Broadened eligibility criteria and a virtual ceremony format made for a memorable awards year.
At first glance, there was little to distinguish this many-paned Zoom window from the thousands of Zoom windows gracing computer screens across the country since the beginning of the pandemic. Upon closer look, those little squares turned out to be populated by some of the brightest lights and biggest decision makers in Canada’s screen industry, from actor Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs to Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, not to mention a small army of Canada’s leading independent producers. The event that brought them together was nothing less than a celebration of how far Canadian film has come, and how far it’s going to go: the Indiescreen Awards.
Challenges and opportunities
It wasn’t just its virtual setting that set this “pandemic edition” of the annual awards ceremony apart from its predecessors. The ceremony, normally a gala event every September at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), was delayed by five months, and instead wrapped up the CMPA’s virtual Prime Time conference in February. The nomination criteria were also opened up for the two awards (the Kevin Tierney Emerging Producer Award and the Established Producer Award). In the past, nominees needed to have a film that premiered at that year’s TIFF, Vancouver (VIFF), Calgary (CIFF) or Atlantic (FIN) International Film Festivals. This time around, independent producers with a feature-length Canadian film released in 2020 were eligible: simple as that.“The pandemic certainly created some challenges for the awards this year, but we also saw this as a huge opportunity to engage more broadly and deeply with Canada’s independent feature film producers,” noted Andrew Addison, the CMPA’s vice-president of communications, marketing and membership, who produces the annual award.
It wasn’t just its virtual setting that set this “pandemic edition” of the annual awards ceremony apart from its predecessors. The ceremony, normally a gala event every September at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), was delayed by five months, and instead wrapped up the CMPA’s virtual Prime Time conference in February. The nomination criteria were also opened up for the two awards (the Kevin Tierney Emerging Producer Award and the Established Producer Award). In the past, nominees needed to have a film that premiered at that year’s TIFF, Vancouver (VIFF), Calgary (CIFF) or Atlantic (FIN) International Film Festivals. This time around, independent producers with a feature-length Canadian film released in 2020 were eligible: simple as that.
Kevin Tierney Emerging Producer Award
While a Zoom party may struggle to compete for prestige with a glitzy gala, the heart of the show was unchanged. Everyone just wanted to celebrate another year of fantastic independent films, even and especially amid the gloom of a global health crisis.
“After watching the films and reading the applications, it’s hard not to be excited about the future of cinema in this country,” said last year’s co-winner of the Kevin Tierney Emerging Producer Award, Fraser Ash (Rhombus Media), shortly before the winner of this year’s award was announced: DOMINIQUE DUSSAULT (Nemesis Films), producer of Nadia, Butterfly.
Dussault and her film were a perfect choice for the pandemic moment. The drama follows a competitive swimmer (real-life Olympian Katerine Savard) coming to grips with her imminent retirement following the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo — which, due to COVID-19, never actually took place. That fact alone makes Nadia, Butterfly a time-capsule curiosity, but the extraordinary feat of staging a global competition on a limited budget ($1.6 million) deserves applause. Other production challenges included filming underwater; finding interior locations in Montreal that could pass as Japanese; and organizing a shoot abroad in Tokyo.
“[The film’s budget] was the biggest budget I had to manage,” explained Dussault. “Although it was a limited budget for the ambition of the film, it helped me learn how to maximize the means we have and find creative solutions to put production value on screen.” Making movie magic with limited resources: is there anything more Canadian than that? In recognition of its merits, Nadia, Butterfly was an Official Selection for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival — but, rather fittingly, that never took place either.
Established Producer Award
The CMPA’s Established Producer Award recognized a tremendously talented producer, who produced another extremely apt film for 2020. The year was, of course, significant for more than the pandemic: it also marked a dramatic rise in the collective awareness of racial inequity and injustice, and specifically anti-Black racism. JENNIFER HOLNESS (Hungry Eyes Media) produced Stateless — a documentary about Haitian immigrants and their descendants in the Dominican Republic, more than 200,000 of whom have been stripped of their citizenship — in the recognition that, as an immigrant herself, she has “always struggled to belong.”
In her acceptance speech, Holness — whose many past credits include the series Shoot the Messenger and Guns, and the films Speakers for the Dead and Home Again — told those in attendance how her daughter waited seven years to share a painful memory of being excluded from playing princesses because of her black skin. “As a producer, I understand that I have a privilege of telling stories,” Holness told the Zoom room. “From the jump, I’ve always been committed to telling diverse stories, stories that really matter that we don’t always hear.”
Holness rose to the challenges that her film presented: filming entirely in a foreign country, procuring financing from both Canada and the US, and getting characters to be forthcoming about their anti-immigrant positions. By doing this, she created an opportunity for the audience to absorb a story that is not often heard. Her storytelling is a gift to Canadian cinema.
So, an out-of-the-ordinary awards ceremony to pay tribute to the work of an out-of-the-ordinary year. Moving forward, the Indiescreen Awards will keep some of its changes intact, including the broader nomination criteria. From now on, the producer of any feature-length film premiering that year will be eligible to apply for one or the other award. It’s a change designed to cast a wider net to recognize the determination and ingenuity of a supremely talented community of Canadian independent producers.
And, as we were reminded at the Indiescreen Awards ceremony, some things will never change. Whatever the health crisis, whatever the cultural climate, producers are going to produce. Holness said it best at the end of her acceptance speech: “Thank you very much for honouring me with this award. Because I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
And the nominees were…
Here, all the very worthy nominees of the 2020 Indiescreen Awards:
Kevin Tierney Emerging Producer Award
(Nemesis Films), Nadia, Butterfly
Ana de Lara (Blue Lake Films),
Julie Groleau (Couronne Nord), Jusqu’au déclin (The Decline)
Caleb Ryan (Dos Gatos Negros Films), Vagrant
Jake Yanowski and Charles Officer
(Canesugar Filmworks), Akilla’s Escape
Established Producer Award
Jennifer Holness (Hungry Eyes Media), Stateless
Tanya Brunel and Jeremy Torrie (White Bear Films), The Corruption of Divine Providence
Trish Dolman (Screen Siren Pictures) and Christine Haebler (Terminal City Pictures), French Exit
Lori Lozinski (Violator Films),
Sarah Spring (Parabola Films),
No Ordinary Man