Illustration by Matthew Daley/Torontoist.
District 9 was directed, written, edited, and scored by Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell, Julian Clarke, and Clinton Shorter, respectively—all Canadians. (Blomkamp was born in South Africa but moved to Canada as a teenager.) The film, however, was produced by Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films (New Zealand) and financed by QED International (USA). Without any Canadian funding, District 9 doesn’t qualify for recognition by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.
Gareth C. Scales, a local editor, is trying to change that. Sales has organized a Facebook group called “Vote for District 9 at the Genies – Help Recognise Canadian Talent!” with the hope that the film will receive some recognition at this year’s awards ceremony. “I wanted to try to show the Academy that it’s more than just me who cares about this issue,” says Scales. “The absolute best possible outcome would be for the Academy to accept that it’s perhaps time to change the rules.”
Judy Lung, communications manager for the Academy, outlined their position to Torontoist. “The Genie Awards celebrate and promote Canadian cinema,” Lung said. “Films that are eligible for a Genie Award must qualify as a Canadian film production or co-production, as defined by CAVCO and/or CRTC criteria. As such, there is no formal procedure for submitting a film that does not qualify under this criteria.”
According to Scales, the CRTC/CAVCO certification creates a situation whereby “films do not have to be 100% Canadian, and can qualify as a co-production….A film with even 5% Canadian funding would qualify, which is why Julie Christie can be nominated and win for her amazing work in Away From Her. Currently the rules are awarding ‘Canadian’ films, and not necessarily Canadian filmmakers.”
This isn’t a new issue. It was covered extensively in the media (at least relative to the usual Genie coverage) in 2007, when director Jason Reitman complained that his film Juno—directed by a Canadian, filmed in Vancouver, and starring Ellen Page and Michael Cera—wasn’t eligible.
“It’s a Canadian director, Canadian stars, Canadian cast, Canadian crew, shot in Canada,” Reitman said at the time. “How are we not eligible for a Genie when David Cronenberg’s film about Russians living in London shot in England with a British crew and British cast is eligible? I’m sorry, but somebody is going to have to explain that to me; I don’t get it.”
But if the problem is reoccurring, with little chance that it will change soon, why does it continue to inspire anger in Canadian cinephiles? The Toronto Star‘s Peter Howell raised that question around the time that Reitman’s comments were making headlines: “So why don’t I just let the matter drop? The reason is that year after year, the Canadian movie industry moans about the lack of support for homegrown talent.” It’s true; if anything, Howell understated the issue. Even people not in the industry seem cognizant of Canadian talent and the negligence towards it, if not its relocation elsewhere. Citing “the Byzantine Genie rules,” Howell continued: “The Genies inspire so little passion in the frozen populace, only people directly involved care about who wins what prize. The viewing audience for the Genies’ telecast is so low, our national taxpayer-funded broadcaster no longer carries it.”
Canadian audiences, much like Canadian talent, largely look elsewhere. In 2007 came the release of Superbad, a film starring Canadians (Cera and Seth Rogen), written by Canadians (Rogen and Evan Goldberg) about growing up in Vancouver. The film grossed over $170 million, but neither it nor Juno were recognized by the Academy; Away From Her and Eastern Promises walked away with the bulk of the awards. This year presents a similar situation, with not only District 9 nominated for Academy Awards—as in, the Oscars—but Reitman’s Up in the Air and James Cameron’s Avatar also considered favourites—the lattermost having the distinction of being the highest grossing film of all time.
Scales makes a point of distancing his cause from extending to films like Avatar. “What I am suggesting,” he says, “is that it is opened up to filmmakers living in Canada as well, who under the same CAVCO regulations are considered Canadian (which is, if you’ve filed taxes in Canada the previous year)….people who aren’t working and living in Canada and aren’t paying taxes into the funding system don’t qualify. Thus, someone like James Cameron wouldn’t be eligible.” (He might be a little biased towards the District 9 team, too. “I know Julian Clarke and Clinton Shorter,” he told us. “They were/are disappointed that they can’t be recognized in their country.”)
While a change in regulations in time for this year’s ceremony seems unlikely, as nominations will be announced in the coming weeks, the Academy—as in, the Genies—claims that they’re open to suggestions. “The Genie Awards rules and regulations are reviewed each year,” says Lung. “Recommendations (for example, to revise eligibility rules, introduce a new category, etc.) can be made by Academy members.”
In the meantime, the Hollywood Reporter summarized the current situation well: “The message: Leave it to other awards shows to honor filmmaking excellence, whatever its origins. The Genies celebrate government support.”