War Witch swept away nearly all competition at the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards broadcast gala Sunday night, with the searing child soldier drama capturing best picture and nine other trophies, while TV favourites Flashpoint and Less Than Kind also earned further accolades.

War Witch's writer-director Kim Nguyen turned up on the red carpet Sunday night with the film's teen star Rachel Mwanza, who has gone from living on the streets of Kinshasa to earning accolades internationally for her performance as Komona, a child forced to kill her parents and join a local warlord’s band of soldiers.

'I'd like to dedicate this to the women in the Congo: their strength, their courage and their resilience'—War Witch writer-director Kim Nguyen

"We’ll say what we couldn’t say a week ago at that other awards show: thank you to the academy," producer Pierre Even quipped, referring to last Sunday's Academy Awards in Hollywood, where the Congo-set War Witch lost the best foreign-language film Oscar to Austria's Amour.

Even and fellow producer Marie-Claude Poulin thanked "the team of crazy people" it took to make War Witch (also known by its French-language name Rebelle).

"Many of them have been honoured tonight. For us, seeing Rachel — this shy young girl we found a year ago... come up onstage… it's dear to our hearts."

Along with the coveted best picture honour, War Witch earned Montreal filmmaker Nguyen trophies for his direction and his original screenplay, Mwanza the best lead actress prize and her co-star Serge Kanyinda best supporting actor. It also won for its art direction, cinematography, editing, overall sound and sound editing. Altogether, the drama won in 10 of the 12 categories for which it was nominated.

 

"I'd like to dedicate this to the women in the Congo, their strength, their courage and their resilience," Nguyen said as he took the stage to receive the best director award.

A delighted Mwanza, who accepted both Kanyinda's supporting actor honour as well as her own best actress trophy, breathlessly thanked a list of people in French, including "all the Congolese… I share this with all of the children of the street," she said.

Remaining film prizes spread out

The evening's remaining cinematic honours were spread across different films.

Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children was among the double award-winners, earning kudos for author Salman Rushdie’s adapted screenplay of his acclaimed novel and for the performance of supporting actress Seema Biswas.

David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis picked up two music honours for celebrated composer Howard Shore: best original score and best original song for Long to Live, which he shared with Metric’s Emily Haines and James Shaw.

Quebec filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s epic, gender-bending romance Laurence Anyways scored awards for its costume design and makeup.

Other film winners included:

  • Lead Actor: James Cromwell, Still Mine.
  • Visual Effects: Resident Evil: Retribution.
  • Feature Length Documentary: Stories We Tell.
  • Short Documentary: The Boxing Girls of Kabul.
  • Live Action Short Drama: Throat Song.
  • Animated Short: Paula

Flashpoint, Less Than Kind win for drama, comedy

Slick police thriller Flashpoint, which concluded in December, was crowned best drama. Its star Enrico Colantoni picked up the Canadian Screen Award for best lead actor in a drama for his turn as the head of a police tactical unit.

"This whole thing, this has nothing to do with why we do what we do, but it's always nice," Colantoni said on the red carpet before the show. 

"Nothing surpasses the feeling of, of course, being hired by people who are wonderful and creative people like the people on Flashpoint, so it all starts from there. And then everything you got to do on that show and then to almost consistently every year to be recognized, it's fantastic."

Winnipeg coming-of-age comedy Less Than Kind was named best comedy series, with Wendel Meldrum also picking up the trophy for best lead actress in a comedy.

The show faced what could have been an insurmountable obstacle early on, after the sudden 2010 death of the show’s patriarch, character actor Maury Chaykin, who played Meldrum’s husband. That was followed by two other deaths that affected show-runner Mark McKinney and Meldrum herself, she revealed after she took the stage.

Meldrum thanked The Movie Network and HBO Canada, who "had the courage to stand by and give the creatives the space to make something that was needed and appropriate for the show to go on."

CBC's Dragons, Mansbridge among winners

si-gerry-dee-reuters-rtr3ejh6

Mr. D star Gerry Dee accepts the Canadian Screen Award for best actor in a comedy series on Sunday night in Toronto. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Dragon’s Den, CBC’s popular competition for entrepreneurs, earned the trophy for best reality/competition show, while schoolteacher-turned-comedian Gerry Dee picked up the best actor in a comedy series for his sitcom Mr. D.

"It’s just so much fun and we can’t tell you enough about how appreciative we are," he said of working on the Halifax-shot series.

CBC personalities also took home trophies in prominent television hosting categories, with Peter Mansbridge named best news anchor for CBC News The National and George Stroumboulopoulos named best host in a variety, lifestyle, reality, performing arts or talk program for George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight.

Other television winners included:

  • International Drama: The Borgias
  • Lead Actress in a Dramatic Series: Meg Tilly, Bomb Girls
  • Sports Host or Analyst: Brian Williams, London 2012 Olympic Games

Host Martin Short delivers topical quips

The televised gala was hosted by Canadian comedy veteran Martin Short, whose grand entrance included soaring high over the audience while performing a modified version of Fly Me to the Moon. Along with appearances by classic Short characters such as Jiminy Glick and Ed Grimley, the SCTV alum peppered the evening with jokes that tackled a range of topical and Canuck-friendly subjects, from the kerfuffle over Oscar-winner Argo's U.S.-centric rehash of the Canadian Caper to the current residency controversy swirling around Senator Mike Duffy.

The Canadian Screen Awards replace the formerly separate Genie and Gemini Awards. The new, consolidated honour recognizes excellence in film, television and digital media productions.

si-beach-gibson-cp-04081539

Arctic Air co-stars Leah Gibson and Adam Beach share a laugh on the red carpet before the Canadian Screen Awards gala. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Administered by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, this year's inaugural edition has already awarded a host of trophies during two non-televised, industry ceremonies: one that focused on Canadian news, sports, documentary and lifestyle programming and a second that toasted winners in drama, youth, comedy and variety categories.

Altogether, the CSAs presented awards in 120 categories. A host of special honours were also presented, including to the team behind Flashpoint, longtime fashion journalist Jeanne Beker, actress Kim Cattrall and film technology firm IMAX.


CSA winners - Broadcast and untelevised gala

Film categories:

  • Best Motion Picture: War Witch.
  • Achievement in Direction: Kim Nguyen, War Witch.
  • Actor in a Leading Role: James Cromwell, Still Mine.
  • Actress in a Leading Role: Rachel Mwanza, War Witch.
  • Actor in a Supporting Role: Serge Kanyinda, War Witch.
  • Actress in a Supporting Role: Seema Biswas, Midnight’s Children.
  • Art Direction/Production Design: War Witch.
  • Make-Up: Laurence Anyways.
  • Costume Design: Laurence Anyways.
  • Cinematography: War Witch.
  • Editing: War Witch.
  • Music - Original Score: Howard Shore, Cosmopolis.
  • Music - Original Song: Howard Shore, Emily Haines, James Shaw, Long to Live (Cosmopolis)
  • Overall Sound: War Witch.
  • Sound Editing: War Witch.
  • Original Screenplay: Kim Nguyen, War Witch.
  • Adapted Screenplay: Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children.
  • Feature Length Documentary Award: Stories We Tell.
  • Short Documentary: The Boxing Girls of Kabul.
  • Live Action Short Drama: Throat Song.
  • Animated Short: Paula.
  • Visual Effects: Resident Evil: Retribution.

Television categories:

  • Dramatic Series: Flashpoint.
  • Comedy Program/Series: Less Than Kind.
  • International Drama: The Borgias.
  • Lead Actor in a Dramatic Role: Enrico Colantoni, Flashpoint.
  • Lead Actress in a Dramatic Role: Meg Tilly, Bomb Girls.
  • Lead Actor in a Comedic Role: Gerry Dee, Mr. D.
  • Lead Actress in a Comedic Role: Wendel Meldrum, Less Than Kind.
  • Reality/Competition Program: Dragon’s Den.
  • News Anchor: Peter Mansbridge, CBC News The National.
  • Sports Host or Analyst: Brian Williams, London 2012 Olympic Games.
  • Host in a Variety, Lifestyle, Reality/Competition, Performing Arts or Talk Program: George Stroumboulopoulos, George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight.

Previously announced awards:

  • Claude Jutra Award for Best First Feature Film: Jason Buxton, Blackbird.
  • Cineplex Golden Reel Award: Resident Evil: Retribution
  • Academy Special Film Award: Victor Loewy, former head of Alliance and Vivafilm.
With files from The Canadian Press