Movies by a pair of Canada's best-known film-world personalities — Sarah Polley and David Cronenberg — dominated Monday night's Genie Awards, which celebrated their 28th year of honouring homegrown cinema.

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Gordon Pinsent and Sarah Polley pose with their Genies in Toronto Monday. Polley's film Away From Her won seven awards, including best picture and best actor for Pinsent. ((Frank Gunn/Canadian Press))

Polley and her feature film debut Away From Her scored seven of the evening's major honours: best picture, director, adapted screenplay, three of four Genie acting trophies and the previously announced Claude Jutra Award recognizing the effort of a first-time filmmaker.

Cronenberg's Eastern Promises also won seven trophies, though largely in more technical categories.

"The ridiculousness of me winning in this category is not lost on me," Polley said as she accepted the best director Genie and paid tribute to her fellow nominees Cronenberg, Denys Arcand, Roger Spottiswoode and Bruce McDonald. She also thanked her executive producer and mentor, Atom Egoyan.

"I began writing this screenplay the day after my husband, David Wharnsby, told me not to give up," Polley said upon winning a Genie for her screenplay, adapted from Alice Munro's short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain.

"I made this film with him, I made it because of him and I made it for him," Polley later added.

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The audience showered best actor winner Gordon Pinsent with a standing ovation at Monday night's Genie Awards in Toronto. ((Frank Gunn/Canadian Press))

British actress Julie Christie was not on hand to receive her best actress Genie for her much-celebrated, poignant portrayal of a woman succumbing to Alzheimer's disease in Away From Her. However, co-star Gordon Pinsent received a standing ovation from the star-studded audience at the Genie gala in Toronto when he won the corresponding best actor award.

"You can't give an actor too much of that. You smack him in the face with all that appreciation, you never know where it will take him," Pinsent joked of the sustained applause.

He also quipped that he was considering "when it would be decent to compare this performance with the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel."

Cronenberg was a familiar sight on the Genie stage, accepting awards for absent collaborators for his London-set mafia drama Eastern Promises.

The film also scooped up seven trophies: best supporting actor for Armin Mueller-Stahl, as well as original screenplay, cinematography, original score, editing, overall sound and sound editing.

Genies spread out among other winners

  2008 Genie Award Winners
Best picture: Away From Her.
Actor: Gordon Pinsent, Away From Her.
Actress: Julie Christie, Away From Her.
Supporting actor: Armin Mueller-Stahl, Eastern Promises.
Supporting actress: Kristen Thomson, Away From Her.
Director: Sarah Polley, Away From Her.
Original screenplay: Steven Knight, Eastern Promises.
Adapted screenplay: Sarah Polley, Away From Her.
Editing: Ronald Sanders, Eastern Promises.
Cinematography: Peter Suschitzky, Eastern Promises.
Art direction/production design: Rob Gray, James Willcock, Fido.
Costume design: Carlo Poggioli, Kazuko Kurosawa, Silk.
Original score: Howard Shore, Eastern Promises.
Original song: Valanga Khoza, David Hirschfelder, Kawa (From Shake Hands With the Devil).
Overall sound: Stuart Wilson, Christian Cooke, Orest Sushko, Mark Zsifkovits, Eastern Promises.
Sound editing: Wayne Griffin, Robert Bertola, Tony Currie, Andy Malcolm, Michael O'Farrell, Eastern Promises.
Documentary: Radiant City.
Live action short: Après Tout.
Animated short: Madame Tutli-Putli.

Shake Hands With the Devil, the drama based on Senator Roméo Dallaire's memoir of the same name, entered the evening (tied with Eastern Promises) with a leading 12 Genie nominations. However, it ended the night with just one trophy for Valanga Khoza and David Hirschfelder, who were honoured for their original song Kaya.

Several special awards, announced prior to the ceremony like the Jutra honour, were also awarded Monday night.

Harry Gulkin, the Montreal film producer and longtime manager at Quebec's film funding body SODEC, received a Genie recognizing his lifetime achievement in support of the Canadian film industry for three decades. Regular Cronenberg collaborator Stéphan Dupuis was presented with a special award recognizing his outstanding achievement in makeup design for Eastern Promises.

Les 3 P'tits Cochons (The Three Little Pigs ), Quebec actor and comic Patrick Huard's feature film debut, was also celebrated for its $4.5 million showing at the Canadian box office.

The "dramady," about three brothers passionately debating monogamy and adultery after they are united by their mother's illness, was recognized with the Golden Reel Award, presented to the year's highest grossing Canadian film.

Politics takes the stage

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Sandra Oh, who hosted the televised portion of the awards, was among several notable faces who criticized Bill C-10. ((Frank Gunn/Canadian Press))

Unlike the Oscars and other award shows, where stars tend to shy away from political statements, a host of presenters and winners who took the stage at Monday's Genie gala spoke out against Bill C-10, a proposed law now before the Senate that would allow the federal government to deny tax credits for films that it deems offensive or not in the public interest.

Canadian actress Sandra Oh, who shared hosting duties with comedian Debra DiGiovanni, brought up the bill early on.

"Censorship has had a little work done and is trying to make a comeback," quipped Oh, who took a break from regular filming of U.S. medical drama Grey's Anatomy to return home to host the gala.

"I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound Canadian to me. Let's stop it," said the Nepean, Ont.-born actress.

Later, backstage, she added that "it would be hypocritical for me to be hosting and not talking about this."

Lantos, Dallaire and Polley were also among those who brought up Bill C-10 during their time at the microphone.

"C-10 hasn't made it through the Senate yet," Dallaire said to applause from the audience.

Polley calls bill 'terrifying'

Dallaire continued his criticism of the bill backstage.

"I think it's more significant right now that we have policies to help and support the film industry financially than starting to move on policies that, in my opinion, are not necessarily in the Canadian perspective," he said.

Polley described the proposed bill as "terrifying" and said it "flies in the face of what we should be looking toward in a civilized nation."

"Sex and violence are part of the world we live in," she said after the ceremony. "It's the job of an artist to talk about the world we live in."

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Heritage Minister Josée Verner denied that the bill is an attempt to "police the film industry" and pledged that the Conservative government remains committed "to freedom of expression and will continue to support the creation of edgy, entertaining Canadian content."

Adding that the amendment to the law was introduced by the previous Liberal government in 2002, Verner said "the modifications in question will affect a very small number of the over 1,000 productions that receive tax credits annually… [and] addresses only the most extreme and gratuitous material, not mainstream films such as Eastern Promises, Borderline, and Ma fille, mon ange."

With files from the Canadian Press