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I'll Tell Ya What's Wrong With the Genies
 

Yes, friends, it's that time of year when, on the week-end (Sunday Jan. 30th, to be precise), the tuxes are taken out of mothballs, the dresses rented, and Canada's cinematic elite congregate to celebrate themselves. Yup, iiiit's....Genie time!

And with the Genies come the usual essays and hand wringing from pundits and industry pros. Why does the televised Genies Awards not get better ratings? Why does a Genie win not translate into ticket sales or video rentals the way an Oscar win does? Why does the public just not care?

I'll get to that.

The Genies are an award show perpetually in search of a winning formula. A couple of years back, the Genies were moved from the traditional awards season of early in the new year to the late fall (when the movies themselves were generally being released). This was to foster a symbiotic relationship, riding the wave of publicity the movies generated at film festivals, and allowing the movies themselves to benefit from the Genie publicity because they would still be in the theatres around the time of the broadcast. Obviously that didn't work out, and the Genies are back in the new year.

This year's gimmick is that the rules for what qualifies as "Canadian" have been loosened, allowing movies with less obvious Canadian contributions to be nominated. Among the beneficiaries of this new policy are "Felicia's Journey" and "Sunshine". The theory is that this will allow the Genies to appear more glamorous, by involving a greater participation by non-Canadian stars.

The only thing is, the big name imports like Bob Hoskins, Ralph Fiennes and William Hurt ain't gonna show. So much for that.

Of course, I'm not sure how big a change that is anyway. The Genies have always been happy to nominate movies with little obvious on-screen Canadian content. I assume the difference is that "Felicia's Journey" and "Sunshine" were actually filmed outside of Canada, meaning that there was precious little Canadian participation behind the scenes, not just in front of it. Still, it looks bad -- opening up the show to suck up to foreign stars...and still not being able to get them to come.

Then, to add to things, I was watching a TV newsmagazine where Canadian film critic Brian D. Johnson appeared. Johnson suggested, apparently in all sincerity, that another way to broaden the appeal of the Genies was to encourage the participation of Canadians who had made it big in Hollywood, perhaps even by adding new categories in which to nominate them.

Huh?

The Genies are not a celebration of Canadian talent, they are a celebration of Canadian talent within the Canadian film industry. Sports awards shows don't include nominees for, say, Ex-Football Players Who Have Become Actors. They could. They could celebrate their fellow players who have made careers in other industries -- but they don't. Why? Because awards for sports are awards for sports, just as awards for Canadian films should be awards for Canadian films.

Still, running with Brian Johnson's idea, think of all the new categories that could be added.

How about Best Performance by a Canadian as a Starship Captain? The nominees are Leslie Nielsen in "Forbidden Planet", William Shatner in "Star Trek", and Lorne Greene in "Battlestar Galactica". No, that wouldn't work. The sentimental favourite would be a posthumous award for Greene, but he's dead and wouldn't attend. Remember -- we want categories that would get the stars on to the stage and the audience glued to their seats.

So how about a category for Best Performance by Donald Sutherland in an Alien Invasion Movie? The nominees are; Donald Sutherland in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", Donald Sutherland in "The Puppet Masters", and Donald Sutherland in "Virus". I mean, Sutherland would have to show up, wouldn't he? Heck, he could even present the award (that way we wouldn't have to wait for him to get from his seat to the podium).

But, as I said, this doesn't really celebrate Canadian film in any way shape or form, does it?

The other claim is that the Genies are just dull television. Hello? Awards shows are dull television! When was the last time a critic enthused about how much he/she enjoyed the Oscars? Besides, that's a problematic complaint. The best Genies award telecast I saw was one a few years ago hosted by Gordon Pinsent and Megan Follows. It was a stripped down affair. At one point Pinsent (well, his stunt double) did a series of back flips across the stage, then Pinsent quipped: "Well, so much for the production number". Follows seemed a bit nervous, but old pro Pinsent kept things lively and funny...and the show came in on time, I think. Next day? Critics wrote what an awful show it was. Go figure. Of course, in Canada, we've done some pretty outrageous things to enliven awards shows. There was a Gemini (the TV awards) show where they released a falcon in the auditorium to deliver the nominee envelope (a stunt that could have gone horribly awry, I would've thought, with some pretty actors and actresses ending up not quite so pretty).

A more legitimate complaint about the Genies is that most people haven't seen or even heard of the films nominated -- even critics are often unable to predict which is the best film, 'cause they haven't seen all the nominees (particularly French language films, which might not have been released in English speaking provinces yet).

But all this nitpicking and second guessing is pointless. Every year critics and industry pros try and figure out the best way to get people to watch the Genies, the best stunt, the best gimmick. And you want know the secret to getting people to watch? Psst. Come closer and I'll whisper it to you.
The secret? Make movies people want to see! Make movies that people care enough about that they're curious as to who will win! The Genies will never be a great awards show until it's giving awards to great movies.

That's the dilemma. Without movies that the Canadian public actually wants to see, why would you expect them to sit down for two hours and watch those same movies win awards?

That's all for now,
the Masked Movie Critic

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