Last-minute change pays off big for Montreal-centric Boost at Canadian Screen Awards

Eight days before shooting their $1-million movie Boost, the producers decided it needed to be completely recast.

Film took 1 award, winning in the Best Actor category at Sunday's event

Actor Nabil Rajo arrives on red carpet at the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto on Sunday March 11, 2018 (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Boost claimed one Canadian Screen Award on Sunday night: Best Actor in a Leading Role  

Eight days before shooting their $1-million movie Boost, the producers decided it needed to be completely recast.

It proved to be the right decision — the film is up for five Canadian Screen Awards at this Sunday's gala — even if it hasn't quite paid off. Yet.

The cast was supposed to be South Asian. But then writer Darren Curtis and producers Frederic Bohbot and Kieran Crilly discovered Nabil Rajo.
Nabil Rajo, who plays the protagonist Hakeem, won a Canadian Screen Award in the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role. (CSA)

They immediately wanted to give him the lead. And so they scrambled to find East African and black African-Canadian actors to surround him.

"It was a big risk. We had to make a bunch of changes. So it's gratifying to see that their recognition tells us that we made the right decision," said co-producer Frederic Bohbot.

Rajo, who plays protagonist Hakeem, won the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role on Sunday night.

Degrassi actor Jahmil French, who plays Hakeem's best friend A-Mac, was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Meanwhile Olunike Adeliyi of Flashpoint and Workin' Moms, was up for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her work as Hakeem's mother.

Jahmil French and Oluniké Adeliyi were each nominated for a Canadian Screen Award in the categories of Best Supporting Role. (CSA)
The thriller — which was made in Montreal, by Montrealers — was also up for Best Original Song by Montreal rap group The Posterz. The film also got a fifth nod for Best Overall Sound.

On the big screen

Since the CSA nominations were announced, Boost will be playing in theatres in four other cities across Canada: Vancouver, Whitby, Kanata and Toronto.

At the Scotia theatre in Toronto, it's in the room right next to the Black Panther.

The film's producers are hoping the attention from the CSAs will improve their box-office take.

When it was first released, last April, it was shown in five Montreal cinemas.

How did it do?

"Terribly," Bohbot said. "Two weeks, four to five times per day. Total of $6,400 in box office. I did better with a documentary once a day over a weekend."

Movie industry transitioning

And that leads us to the perennial question: Why don't Canadians watch Canadian films?

Well, according to Telefilm's director of communications and national promotion, Francesca Accinelli, the studies the federal funding body conducts on a regular basis show that Canadians are watching films about Canada made by Canadians — and we're proud to do so.

We're watching our stories online, on television, with fancy home theatres; and sometimes on airplanes and sometimes in theatres.

But let's face it, filmmakers are putting in work not only to write stories that are reflective of our society and culture, but they also work hard to capture that story with strong performers, beautiful cinematography, editing and a soundscape that compliments the visual experience.

Getting butts in seats helps them know that people are fully engaged with their blood, sweat and tears.

The movie Boost, a $1M thriller, was made in Montreal, by Montrealers and features Montreal. (

So what gives?

How do we get Canadians excited about leaving the comforts of home to see the work of their local talent in a movie theatre?

"I'm going to be cynical and say that I think it's advertising and marketing," Boost co-producer Kieran Crilly suggests.

"We've tried 'The Canadian' film festival and we've tried Canadian National Film day and those are really amazing festivals and institutions, but I think at the end of the day you need to show an audience that there's an exciting movie to watch and not necessarily guilt them into going because it's Canadian, but because it's a good movie."

Another Montreal filmmaker, Carlo Guillermo Proto, up for Best Documentary and Best Cinematography for his film Resurrecting Hassan, agrees that money for marketing is useful, but say it needs to be rerouted.

"Producers and distributors, myself included, don't know how to market films any more, especially to the younger generation," he says. "People think that Facebook is the new way. It's not."

Boosting attendance

Proto feels that the film community and industry here are in a transitional period, people are panicking, so they're throwing up money and not really coming together for concrete solutions.

Although Telefilm feels that online marketing is a strong tool to capture audiences, especially younger ones, and a good way to spend their grant of $50,000 to $100,000 (which distributors have to reimburse), they haven't fully given up on traditional promotion.

A new program opening up in April will reward repertory houses and other exhibitors across Canada for showing Canadian films "to give them more promotional funds to be able to ensure that Canadian independent cinema has a place in their cinemas because that is, for sure, one of our top priorities." said Francesca Accinelli.

Fingers crossed.

The Canadian Screen Awards aired on CBC Television Sunday, March 11 at 8 p.m. See the full list of nominees here.

About the Author

Nantali Indongo is CBC's Arts & Culture contributor and host of The Bridge. Follow her on Twitter @taliindongo.