Monday, March 13, 2006

THE GENIE AWARDS?


Good Lord. The Genie Awards?

If there was ever a reason to burn my Canadian passport, this was it.

I'm in Vancouver, preparing a new movie, a sequel to the successful gay private eye movie I made last year THIRD MAN OUT. After a long day of fighting with agents, schedules and the ever-present spectre of the budget looming over our movie like the Sword of Damacles, I came back to the hotel for a glass of wine and a bowl of room service soup. Turned on tv, looking for something, anything, to make me forget that we start shooting the movie in less than three days and STILL don't have two of our major roles cast.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear, as they say, but what I thought must have been a joke, a parody of an awards show. A half deserted cocktail party, it seemed, with several rather zaftig tv drones and a vaguely frightening ex-weatherman, smiling through bleached teeth as they feigned excitement over the grimmest collection of "films" since the Third Reich stopped making comedies.

These were, I was reminded over and over again by the desperate hosts, THE GENIES.

All the EXCITEMENT coming to me LIVE, although I'm not sure how live they really were - the show kept cutting from the aforementioned cocktail party/wake in the lobby and the sparsely occupied auditorium where badly dressed and completely unknown "presenters" handed out these hideous paperweights, all the while reminding us how LIVE and EXCITING they were.

The honorees might have been worthy, it's hard to say. Nobody was paying attention. Not that you can blame them.

There was some movie about angry mothers relating to their sad daughters, another about some masturbating kid trying to get over the death of his mother, yet another about a self-loathing loan shark "muscle", still another about a father trying to raise some badly dressed kids in the 70's (this one at least had a teenager in a bowl haircut levitating over a congregation of Montrealers, all of whom were humming along to "Sympathy for the Devil" - oh, the symbolism of it all!) and finally -- and most incongruously -- a fake documentary about a DJ slowly going deaf in Ibiza.

Most of these were in French. Well, not really French, rather the tone-deaf version of the language which passes as French in the province of Quebec and several die hard and pre-Cambrian pockets of Canada. Honestly, it makes hardcore German porn dialog sound like a spring rain.

This was of course because the only films recognized in Canada as not completely sucking the pipe are made in Quebec, by a collection of talented craftspeople and artists who ignore popular trends, disavow themselves of imitative pandering to "American" tastes and simply make the movies that they themselves would like to see.

That's not to say they're any good. In fact, they seem to be, from the outside, the kind of pretentious, artsy crap usually reserved for first year film school "Best of" Festivals. But at least they're honest. They know nobody watches Canadian film, so they just do as they please.

But for the love of all that is right and pure in the world, WHY ARE THERE GENIES? Nobody inside or outside of the industry cares about them, the Canadian audience barely knows they nor the movies they apparently honor exist, and the show itself can't even attract Atom Egoyan, a filmmaker who will attend the opening of cigar box if he thinks he can find somebody to invest in one of his glacial cinematic endeavors.

Watching this farce reminded me once again of why I fled the country years ago. I have never been interested in making movies nobody wants to see. At the most, I try to make entertainment. At the very least, I try not to bore the audience.

But there wasn't room for my type of movie up here in the true north strong and free. So I packed up and left, went to "Hollywood" (or what passes for it in this era of co-productions, tax shelters and off shore financing) and took my B-movie imagination with me. Things have worked out well, for the most part - there have been ups and downs, good years and bad ones - but not once have I ever regretted getting the hell out of Dodge City.

Canada is a wonderful place for children and retirees: free health care, as long as you're not in a hurry; good education, as long as you don't mind a stultifying political correctness draining every drop of adventure from the learning curve; and several weeks off every year to hibernate in snowbound luxury as long as you can afford the electrical heat.

But it ain't a great place to flourish. Government financing for mediocrity in the arts doesn't exactly encourage innovation. And in a country where money is routinely handed to writers who can barely string together a cohesive plot outline, it's no wonder nobody goes to see their homegrown movies - let alone watch an amateurly staged PR event to "honor" the damn things.

The entire Genie event was beyond "cringe-worthy"; a "showbusiness" schmooze fest with not a single celebrity in sight. The obvious reason for the lack of star power - even what passes as "Canadian" star power (ie; anybody who was ever in any big American film/tv show/courtroom) was timing.

See, the Genies are held during what used to be called"pilot season", that time of year when every Canadian actor worth his or her salt has camped out in the Los Angeles living rooms of any ex-patriate whose telephone number they were given during some drunken Toronto Film Festival party, and is now feverishly driving around town in a rented Toyota, convinced that the next audition will be "the one".

But in the new cable driven, 24/7 world of tivo and video on demand, "pilot season" no longer really exists. That hasn't, however, stopped the flow of hopefuls.

Even the d-listers, those hardy souls who eke out a living doing guest spots on the latest incarnation of Degrassi or Trailer Park Boys, have flown the coop -- this mythical "pilot season" very conveniently happens to fall during the coldest, crappiest months of Canadian winter, so even if nothing happens career wise, these Strasbergian North of 49'ers can at least thaw out and say they saw Joan Van Ark at The Grove.

So the only people left for the producers of The Genies to draft into presenter/host/recipient duty were the ones least likely to attract an audience. The money guys. The technical departments. And a couple of actors whose drug related arrests or political affiliations didn't sit well with the US Immigration officer at the border.

I haven't seen the ratings yet -- I doubt they've even registered a blip -- but I can almost guarantee the numbers will bear out my suspicions that nobody gives a damn about Canadian film awards.

Because nobody gives a damn about Canadian films.

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