Canadian filmmakers were lauded for their dark portrayals of true events at the 30th Genie Awards last night, as front-runner Polytechnique claimed most of the big wins while conjuring painful memories of the Montreal massacre.
The controversial French-language film won in nine of the 11 categories in which it was nominated, including best film, best direction and best original screenplay.
Quebec star Karine Vanasse snagged the best leading actress honour for her role as engineering student Valérie, while Maxim Gaudette won best supporting actor for his chilling portrayal of Marc Lépine, who roamed the halls of École Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989, shooting 14 women to death and injuring 13 others before turning the gun on himself.
Director Denis Villeneuve highlighted the struggle to make compelling films in Canada and Quebec while accepting his award at Toronto's Guvernment/Kool Haus Entertainment Complex last night.
The film also took awards for best cinematography, editing, sound and sound editing.
Vancouver-born Joshua Jackson won best actor for his role in One Week, a tale about a dying man taking one last road trip across Canada. The film was the only one to make it to major theatres across Canada and was nominated only in the actor's category.
The current star of the TV thriller Fringe was perhaps one of the country's brightest lights in attendance, along with supporting-actor nominee Scott Speedman for his role in Atom Egoyan's Adoration and, of course, heralded actor Gordon Pinsent.
Before presenting the best-director award, Mr. Jackson said Canadians should apply some of their Olympic pride to their film industry.
"We can celebrate 30 years of Canadian film and do it proudly, not just because we're Canadian but because we make great movies."
Winnipeg-born Martha Burns walked away with the best supporting actress trophy for her performance as a nun in Love & Savagery.
Film-festival sweetheart Nurse.Fighter.Boy. was completely shut out of the major categories, winning one trophy for its music. The film, about the unexpected and fluid nature of family, had 10 nominations including best film.
Thriller Fifty Dead Men Walking fared slightly better with two wins out of seven nominations. The Master Key won two out of its eight nods.
The run-up to the Genie Awards had been a path of frustration for many Canadian filmmakers who wondered why some of the most critically acclaimed movies didn't even make the list of nominees.
Another criticism has been the dismal distribution of films across Canada. Some of last night's Quebec winners pleaded for more national exposure. Denise Robert and Daniel Louis, who accepted the Golden Reel award for De père en flic, asked the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television to "make sure our Quebec movies can be seen across the country and vice versa." The action flick is the highest-grossing French film in Canadian history, with $11-million at the box office.
Polytechnique raised eyebrows in Quebec upon its release last spring, with many equating the art-house flick to a horror film and wondering why a filmmaker would want to revisit such a terrifying time in Canadian history.