2024 Canadian Screen Awards: BlackBerry becomes most awarded title in ceremony’s history

2024 Canadian Screen Awards: BlackBerry becomes most awarded title in ceremony’s history

In an echo of last year’s duel record-breaking performance by dramas The Porter and Brother, both BlackBerry and Little Bird shattered records at the final night of the 2024 Canadian Screen Awards.

But while those first two titles both became the most ever awarded at the CSAs last year with 12 wins apiece, there was one clear winner on Friday. BlackBerry, the cellphone company-centred drama helmed by Toronto’s Matt Johnson, took home three wins: with achievement in direction going to Johnson, performance in a comedy leading role to Jay Baruchel, and the film taking home the top prize of best motion picture.

BlackBerry had already collected 11 trophies at a gala last night that handed out the bulk of the film prizes, nabbing best adapted screenplay, best cinematography and best supporting comedy performer for U.S. actor Glenn Howerton.

Its combined total of 14 is above any other film or TV show in the awards’ history — a sort of highly lauded validation of what industry insiders have called a much needed commercialization of Canada’s flagging cinema industry.

WATCH | BlackBerry dominates CSA nominations: 

‘BlackBerry’ dominates Canadian Screen Awards with record-breaking 17 nominations

Limited series Little Bird and dramedy Sort Of received 19 and 18 nominations, respectively, dominating their fields of drama and comedy. Final gala ceremony to be broadcast on CBC on May 31

“I think there is an ideology in this country that you can’t make the things that you want, and that it’s not possible to stay in Canada. I want to tell you that it’s all in your head,” Johnson said while accepting the best picture award.

“This country’s having a renaissance, we have role models again, and if you stick with it, Canada will have a voice in cinema again. It won’t be us. This movie was a joke. But it will be you.”

But before BlackBerry‘s trio of awards were handed out, Little Bird — the Jennifer Podemski, Hannah Moscovitch co-created series about an Indigenous woman impacted by the Sixties Scoop — briefly held that same title.

After entering the day’s bash having already won 11 trophies, it added two more wins on Friday. It won both of the categories it was eligible for, with best lead performer in a drama series going to Darla Contois and best drama series landing in its creators’ laps. 

That total haul of 13 wins makes it the highest-awarded TV show in CSA history, though it wasn’t the only series to see some love.

Bria Mack Gets a Life won its sole award, though it was a big one — best comedy series. The Crave-hosted coming-of-age story centred around a Black Canadian woman prevailed in a hotly contested category: Crave’s Letterkenny, CTV’s Shelved, CBC series Son of a Critch and sitcom Workin’ Moms‘ final season were all up for the award. 

Son of a Critch did grab some gold in the end, taking home the Cogeco fund audience choice award. And on the reality television side, Canada’s Drag Race: Canada vs. The World capped an impressive performance. After winning six categories on Thursday, it added best reality/competition program or series to its list of accolades.

Canadian cinema in ‘crisis mode’

But despite the glitz and glam, the awards themselves come at a difficult time for the entertainment industry.

The show’s host, Toronto comedian Mae Martin, took a moment to jest about the industry’s troubled state.

During their opening monologue, Martin said several friends had sent them an “encouraging” article in the lead-up to the show with the headline, “Can the 2024 Canadian Screen Awards save a film and television industry in crisis mode?”

A person wearing a pink, purple, yellow and blue camo outfit stands onstage, holding a mic. They are dragging a large beige worm costume behind them.
Comedian Mae Martin, dressed as the character Ken from the Barbie movie, drags a Dune sandworm off the stage during the 12th Canadian Screen Awards, held at the CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto on Friday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Amid skits including a brief I’m Just Ken-rendition that the non-binary comedian jokingly re-titled “I’m just them,” and a giant worm costume they donned in honour of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, Martin joked that they were ready to boost Canada’s screen industry with their comedic prowess.

“I think tonight we’re going to do it!” said Martin. “It’s a lot of pressure on my mild jokes, but I think we can do it.”

How successful they were from an audience perspective is still up for debate: Traditionally, the bash has been broadcast live to home viewers, but this year’s edition aired as a one-hour show consisting of taped tributes and highlights from the two-hour gala.

It follows a similar setup last year that was widely criticized — including by actor Eugene Levy — for featuring segments taped in New York well ahead of the show. 

Throughout the night, there were tongue-in-cheek jokes about whether anyone was really bothering to watch.

When presenting best lead performance in a comedy, Johnson facetiously greeted “the millions of people watching at home,” to general laughter and an explanation that they “got asked to pad the numbers a little bit.”

Actors, filmmakers offer impassioned speeches

But there were also still impassioned words from winners and nominees.

As Markham, Ont.-born actor Amrit Kaur accepted the award for best lead performance in a drama for her role in The Queen of My Dreams, she gave a speech calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

“To be an artist, it is my job to feel and to empathize. And for those of you who are telling us artists not to speak up in fear of losing jobs, in fear of losing careers, in fear of losing reputation, you are telling us not to be artists,” Kaur said on Friday. “I refuse to sacrifice and live in the hatred of humanity.”

Speaking at a red carpet ahead of the show, Alexandra Billings — nominated for her performance in Queen Tut — said she was particularly appreciative of the nomination, but also the celebration in general. She said the CSAs allowed space for transgender actors like her, and other marginalized voices, to find support. 

“We need to continue to tell our own stories,” she said. “This kind of thing celebrates that. Not just about the awards, but everyone in one room, that’s community. And that’s the foundation.”

A smiling man wearing a suit poses in front of a photo wall.
Quebec’s Denis Villeneuve stands on the red carpet during the 12th Canadian Screen Awards on Friday in Toronto. The Dune director was on hand to receive the Academy Icon award for his ‘exceptional, ongoing contribution to the media industry.’ (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Villeneuve implores Canadians to protect culture

In a somewhat surprising showing, Quebec’s Denis Villeneuve made an appearance to accept the Academy Icon award for his “exceptional, ongoing contribution to the media industry.”

The veteran filmmaker accepted the award onstage, where he gave a speech imploring Canadians to protect their culture and new voices in cinema, as “culture is what truly defines a country” and “the first thing that fascism attacks.”

Ahead of the awards, he spoke to CBC News about his appreciation for the CSAs — and the Canadian cinema industry as a whole. 

“The amount of freedom I had here allowed me to experiment. It allowed me to fail, to make mistakes, it allowed me to grow up,” he said.

“The system here allowed me to find my voice. That voice helped me to work abroad, and that’s why it’s a fantastic place to be a filmmaker in Canada.”

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