‘BlackBerry,’ ‘Little Bird’ nab top trophies at Canadian Screen Awards

‘Little Bird’ cleaned up among the TV shows, receiving the award for best drama series

Matt Johnson’s “BlackBerry” may have ended in tragedy but it saw nothing short of triumph as it dominated the Canadian Screen Awards in an evening full of self-referential jabs about the industry and some moments of protest Friday.

The Toronto filmmaker’s chaotic dramedy about the rise and fall of an era-defining smartphone won best picture, while Johnson won for achievement in direction and Montreal’s Jay Baruchel took home the prize for best lead performer in a comedy film.

“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, addressing young Canadian filmmakers.

“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.”

This brought the movie’s Screen Awards tally to 14 after it swept Thursday’s industry gala for cinema arts, where it nabbed best adapted screenplay, best cinematography and best supporting comedy performer for U.S. actor Glenn Howerton.

“I was pretty fortunate to be invited into (Johnson’s) posse, and we made something special,” Baruchel said Friday while accepting his award in a striped blazer with matching shorts and “Hockey Night in Canada” socks.

“I hope everyone at home gets to see the ingrown hairs,” he said, gesturing toward his bare calves. “You’re welcome, Canada.”

Meanwhile, “Little Bird” cleaned up among the TV shows, receiving the award for best drama series and best drama performer for Darla Contois on Friday, racking up a total of 13 trophies over multiple galas.

“I’m just so excited to see so much young, Indigenous talent coming up,” Toronto co-creator Jennifer Podemski said on the red carpet before the bash.

“It kind of just feels like that’s what it was all for, the times where it was just me in certain spaces … and I’m also happy for the young people on my show, because they’re here to celebrate and I’m excited for them.”

Markham, Ont.-born actor Amrit Kaur won best lead performance in a drama and gave an impassioned speech calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war while accepting the award for her role in the film “The Queen of My Dreams.”

“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,” she said.

“I refuse to sacrifice and live in the hatred of humanity.”

TV winners included Crave’s “Bria Mack Gets A Life,” which beat CBC’s “Workin’ Moms,” Crave’s “Letterkenny,” CTV’s “Shelved” and CBC’s “Son of a Critch” for the best comedy series award.

“It’s been one of the crowning achievements of the show to be able to accurately reflect the Jamaican-Canadian immigrant experience in a contemporary way,” creator Sasha Leigh Henry said backstage about her show, which follows a young Black woman navigating life with the help of an invisible hype girl.

Host Mae Martin took a moment to jest about the troubled state of the homegrown entertainment industry during their opening monologue, saying several friends sent them “encouraging” articles in the leadup to the show with the headline, “Can the Canadian Screen Awards Save an Industry in Crisis Mode?”

Martin joked that puts a lot of pressure on their “mild jokes” but said there are tons of reasons to celebrate.

That was certainly the case for the creators and cast of “BlackBerry,” the most nominated film in the 11-year history of the Screen Awards with 17 nods.

Set in 1990s Waterloo, Ont., the film follows the Icarus-like ascent of the BlackBerry mobile device and its inventors. Baruchel stars as company co-founder Mike Lazaridis and Howerton plays co-CEO Jim Balsillie.

Other best film contenders included drag queen drama “Solo,” sci-fi horror “Infinity Pool,” teen love dramedy “Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person,” psychological thriller “Red Rooms (Les chambres rouges)” and workplace abuse portrait “Richelieu.”

The accolades for “Little Bird,” centred on a ’60s Scoop survivor fostered by a Jewish family in Montreal, included best drama ensemble, best casting and best supporting drama performer for Braeden Clarke.

Co-created by Podemski and Ottawa’s Hannah Moscovitch, it features a largely Indigenous cast and creative team and entered the race with 19 nominations. The six-part show bested CBC’s “Essex County” and “Plan B,” Hollywood Suite’s “Slasher: Ripper” and CTV’s “Transplant” in the best drama series category.

Contois said working on the series felt “very impactful” given the way Canada has come to learn more about the Indigenous experience in recent years.

“With it being so very close to my heart and my family, it just feels incredible to share that story so that in some way we as Canadians can be on the same page,” she said backstage.

The annual celebration of the best in homegrown film, television and digital media is run by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.

Traditionally, the bash has been broadcast live to home viewers but this year’s edition aired Friday night as a one-hour show on CBC and CBC Gem, comprised of taped tributes and highlights from the two-hour gala.

In an interview earlier this week, Academy CEO Tammy Frick said the organization “listened” to feedback on last year’s pre-taped telecast hosted by Samantha Bee, which was largely panned for featuring segments taped in New York well ahead of the announcement.

In the days leading up to the telecast, that experiment drew criticism from industry figures including Eugene Levy, who argued Canadian creators deserved a live celebration.

— With files from Nicole Thompson in Toronto

Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press