“BlackBerry” and “Little Bird” win first trophies at the Canadian Screen Awards


“Little Bird” won the TV show award for best drama series

Although Matt Johnson's BlackBerry ended in tragedy, the film was a triumph, dominating the Canadian Screen Awards on a night filled with self-referential jabs at the industry and moments of protest on Friday.

The Toronto filmmaker's chaotic dramedy about the rise and fall of an era-defining smartphone won best picture, while Johnson took home the award for best actor in a comedy for his directing and Montreal's Jay Baruchel.

“I think there is an ideology in this country that you can't achieve what you want and you can't stay in Canada. I want to tell you that it's all in your head,” Johnson said as he accepted the best film award and addressed young Canadian filmmakers.

“This country is experiencing a renaissance, we have role models again, and if you stick with it, Canada will have a voice in the movies again. It won't be us. That movie was a joke. But you will be.”

This brings the number of films awarded with Screen Awards to 14 after the film swept the industry gala for film art on Thursday, securing the awards for best adapted screenplay, best cinematography and best supporting actor in a comedy for US actor Glenn Howerton.

“I was very fortunate to be invited to join (Johnson's) squad and we have created something special,” Baruchel said Friday as he accepted his award in a striped blazer with matching shorts and “Hockey Night in Canada” socks.

“I hope everyone at home sees the ingrown hairs,” he said, pointing to his bare calves. “You're welcome, Canada.”

Meanwhile, Little Bird swept the television broadcast circuit, taking home the award for best drama series and best drama actress for Darla Contois on Friday, bringing her total to 13 trophies at multiple galas.

“I'm just so excited to see so much young, Indigenous talent coming forward,” said Toronto-based co-creator Jennifer Podemski on the red carpet before the bash.

“It kind of feels like that's what caused it all, the times I was alone in certain places… and I'm happy for the young people on my show too, because they're here to celebrate, and I'm happy for them.”

Markham, Ontario-born actress Amrit Kaur won the award for best lead role in a drama and delivered an impassioned speech calling for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas as she accepted the award for her role in the film “The Queen of My Dreams.”

“As an artist, it's my job to feel and to show compassion. And those of you who tell us artists not to speak our minds for fear of losing our jobs, for fear of losing our careers, for fear of losing our reputations, are telling us we shouldn't be artists,” she said.

“I refuse to make sacrifices and live in hatred of humanity.”

TV winners included Crave's “Bria Mack Gets A Life,” which beat out CBC's “Workin' Moms,” Crave's “Letterkenny,” CTV's “Shelved” and CBC's “Son of a Critch” for best comedy series.

“One of the show's greatest achievements was its ability to accurately portray the Jamaican-Canadian immigrant experience in a contemporary way,” creator Sasha Leigh Henry said backstage of her show, which is about a young black woman navigating life with the help of an invisible hype girl.

Host Mae Martin took the opportunity during her opening monologue to joke about the dire situation facing the domestic entertainment industry. She said several friends had sent her “encouraging” articles in the run-up to the show with the headline “Can the Canadian Screen Awards save an industry in crisis?”

Martin joked that this puts a lot of pressure on their “mild jokes” but said there are plenty of reasons to celebrate.

This was certainly true of the makers and cast of “BlackBerry,” the most nominated film in the eleven-year history of the Screen Awards with 17 nominations.

Set in Waterloo, Ontario in the 1990s, the film follows the Icarus-like rise of the BlackBerry mobile device and its inventors. Baruchel plays the company's co-founder, Mike Lazaridis, and Howerton plays co-CEO Jim Balsillie.

Other contenders for the best picture award included the drag queen drama “Solo,” the science fiction horror film “Infinity Pool,” the teen romance dramedy “Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person,” the psychological thriller “Red Rooms (Les chambres rouges)” and the workplace abuse portrait “Richelieu.”

Awards for “Little Bird,” which tells the story of a survivor of the 1960s Scoop series who grows up with a Jewish family in Montreal, include best drama ensemble, best cast and Braeden Clarke's best supporting actor.

Co-created by Podemski and Ottawa-based Hannah Moscovitch, the series features a largely Indigenous cast and creative team and opened with 19 nominations. The six-episode show beat out CBC's “Essex County” and “Plan B,” Hollywood Suite's “Slasher: Ripper” and CTV's “Transplant” for Best Drama Series.

Contois said working on the series felt “very impactful” given the way Canada has learned more about the experiences of Indigenous people in recent years.

“Because it's so close to my heart and my family's heart, it's an incredible feeling to share this story so that we as Canadians can, in some way, be on the same side,” she said backstage.

The annual celebration of the best in domestic film, television and digital media is hosted by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.

Traditionally, the bash is broadcast live to viewers at home, but this year's edition aired as a one-hour show on CBC and CBC Gem on Friday night and consisted of recorded tributes and highlights from the two-hour gala.

In an interview earlier this week, Academy CEO Tammy Frick said the organization had listened to feedback on last year's pre-taped broadcast hosted by Samantha Bee, which was widely criticized for including segments taped long before the New York announcement.

In the days leading up to its broadcast, this experiment drew criticism from industry figures such as Eugene Levy, who argued that Canadian producers deserved a live celebration.

— With files from Nicole Thompson in Toronto

Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press