Passchendaele, Necessities of Life dominate Genie Awards

Passchendaele, a sprawling story set during the First World War, was the big winner at the Genie Awards on Saturday night, taking home six awards, including best picture.

Passchendaele, a sprawling story set during the First World War, was the big winner at the Genie Awards on Saturday night, taking home six awards including best picture.

Kristin Booth hams at the Genie Awards at the Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa on Saturday. She won the best supporting actress award. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press) )
The French-language Inuit tale Ce Qu'il Faut Pour Vivre (The Necessities of Life) also had a strong showing, with four awards, including best director honours for Benoît Pilon.

The Genie Awards, the annual awards for excellence in Canadian film, were handed out Saturday evening in Ottawa at a ceremony inside the Canadian Aviation Museum hosted by comedian Dave Foley.

Foley joked about the setting — an aircraft hangar filled with historic airplanes in which guests sat on folding chairs — saying it was his own first choice for an awards show.

"I must be surrounded by flightless airplanes. It's sort of feels like being in Canadian show business," he quipped.

Throughout the evening, Foley poked fun at his own comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall and the fact that Canadians often don't see their own movies. One comedy sketch featured a support group for people who were afraid to watch Canadian films.

In one sketch, he made a faux appearance on Entertainment Tonight in which he promoted a film he called Confederation Day. "Aliens attack Ottawa and the big question is whether Prime Minister Harper can prorogue Parliament in time," he said.

The last hour and an a half of the awards were aired on Global TV.

Passchendaele, written, directed and starring Paul Gross, follows a Canadian soldier from 1917 Calgary to the trenches of France and combines the war story with a tender romance.

It took Gross, who has a passion for Canada's war stories, almost 10 years to make the film.

Gross wasn't present to accept his Genie for best film as he was in Los Angeles. Producers Niv Fichman and Francis Damberger accepted the award on his behalf.

"I'd like to thank Paul Gross for being the driving force behind this film," Damberger said. "I'd like to thank him for his vision and his comradeship. I dedicate this moment to the Canadian forces past and present and all the sacrifice they have made for us in the name of freedom."

 Genie Award winners
 Best picture: Passchendaele
 Best director: Benoît Pilon, The Necessities of Life
 Best actor: Natar Ungalaaq, The Necessities of Life
 Best actress: Ellen Burstyn, The Stone Angel

 Best supporting actor: Callum Keith Rennie, Normal

 Best supporting actress: Kristin Booth, Young People F---ing
 Best screenplay: Bernard Emond, The Necessities of Life
 Best adapted screenplay: Marie-Sissi LaBreche, Lyne Charlesbois, Borderline
 Best documentary:Up the Yangtze
 Best live action short:Next Floor
 Best animated short:Sleeping Betty
 Best cinematography: Gregory Middleton, Fugitive Pieces
 Best song: Rahi Nagufta, from Amal
 Best original score: John McCarthy for The Stone Angel

Passchendaele recreated period Calgary and had trenchant footage of the battlefields, which was shot in Quebec and southern Alberta. The dozens of extras who participated were descendants and relatives of Canadians who served in the First World War.

It won many of the artistic honours, including best art direction, costume design, overall sound and sound editing.

It previously was awarded the Golden Reel Award for best English-language box office. The film brought in $4.4 million and ran more than 15 weeks in many markets, unusual for a Canadian film.

The Necessities of Life scooped many of the most prestigious awards, including best original screenplay for Bernard Émond, a Quebec anthropologist and filmmaker who spent time in the North in the 1990s before writing the script.

Pilon accepted the award on behalf of Émond before picking up his own award for direction later in the ceremony.

The story follows an Inuit hunter who is diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1952 and sent south to recover in a Quebec sanatorium. Surrounded by strange customs and a language he cannot understand, he begins to despair until a nurse introduces him to an Inuit boy, who is also suffering from TB. In teaching the boy about the traditional way of life, the hunter recovers his will to live.

The film was Pilon's first feature and he said he drew on his experience making both short fiction and documentaries in crafting The Necessities of Life.

"It's been wonderful experience for me to meet Natar Ungalaaq [star of the film] and through him a bit of the spirit of the Inuit people. That has been something wonderful for me," he said in an interview backstage.

The part of the hunter is played by Ungalaaq, who claimed the award for best actor, winning out over Gross in Passchendaele and Christopher Plummer in Emotional Arithmetic.

Natar Ungalaaq poses for photographers after accepting his Genie award for best performance by an actor in a leading role on Saturday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press) )
A delighted Ungalaaq gave his thanks in English, French and Inuktitut.

Backstage, he referred to his own grandfather, who had been treated for TB in the same 1950s epidemic depicted in The Necessities of Life.

"From the start of the film and the time that I read the script I didn't want to [talk about] that very personal part of the film. After the film was made, that is when I started to share the whole personal part of it," Ungalaaq said.

The Necessities of Life also won best achievement in editing for Richard Comeau.

Ellen Burstyn, the American-born actress who played Hagar in The Stone Angel, an adaptation of the novel by Margaret Laurence, won the Genie for best actress.

The Stone Angel also won the award for achievement in music for its score by John McCarthy.

Fugitive Pieces, based on Anne Michaels's novel, took home just one award — best cinematography for Gregory Middleton.

The song Rahi Nagufta from the Hindi-language film Amal earned a Genie for best original song.

The supporting actress Genie went to Kristin Booth in the comedy Young People F---ing.

"I'm honoured to be nominated and to win in a Canadian comedy. There should be more Canadian comedy," an excited Booth said.

The film was much talked about in Senate hearings last year as Canadian politicians debated whether a movie with such a title should be allowed to have government funding. Booth referred obliquely to criticism of the film's title in her speech.

"I think that 'commercial' and 'entertaining' should not be dirty words in this country," she said.

The supporting actor award went to Callum Keith Rennie in Normal.

Presenters throughout the evening included CBC-TV host George Stroumboulopoulos, Global news anchor Kevin Newman, the Canadian Snowbirds with actors Sheila McCarthy and Gordon Pinsent.

As she got up to present an award, actress and cultural advocate Wendy Crewson  urged Canadians to demand put pressure on Ottawa over proposed cuts to the CBC.

"Please email the prime minister and tell him to save the CBC," she said.

Montreal filmmaker Yung Chang's Up the Yangtze, which details how life is changing in the Yangtze river delta because of the flooding caused by the Three Gorges Dam, was named best documentary.

The best short drama was Denis Villeneuve's surreal Next Floor, and best animated short was Sleeping Betty by Claude Cloutier and Marcel Jean.

Borderline, a Quebec film about a young Montrealer who has difficulty separating love and sex, won the Genie for best adapted screenplay. Writers Marie-Sissi Labrèche and writer director Lyne Charlesbois took the award for a screen play adapted from Labrèche's books, Borderline and La Brèche.