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'BlackBerry', 'Swan Song' each win $50,000 Toronto critics' prizes

TORONTO — A chaotic comedy about the rise and fall of an era-defining smartphone has won the $50,000 best Canadian feature prize from the Toronto Film Critics Association.
A still from the film "BlackBerry" is shown in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Elevation Pictures *MANDATORY CREDIT*

TORONTO — A chaotic comedy about the rise and fall of an era-defining smartphone has won the $50,000 best Canadian feature prize from the Toronto Film Critics Association.

"BlackBerry" director and star Matt Johnson accepted the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award at a swanky bash Monday night. Director Don McKellar presented the award.

This marked the first year Rogers has divided its $100,000 award fund into two $50,000 prizes: one for best Canadian film and one for best Canadian documentary.

"I've been nominated for this twice and both times robbed brutally," Johnson joked during his acceptance speech, referring to the previous nods he received for 2016's "Operation Avalanche" and 2013's "The Dirties."

He said after the last loss, his producer Matthew Miller suggested, "We've got to make a movie about a time when these critics were young and happy, and 'Now Magazine' would still pay you to write a review."

After joking he wouldn't be using the money for anything, Johnson told the Canadian Press it would be going towards his next project, a film version of his Viceland series "Nirvanna the Band the Show," which premiered in 2017.

Speaking before the awards ceremony, 'BlackBerry' star Jay Baruchel said he's been overwhelmed by the reception the film has received.

"It's crazy to get people to connect to anything in this increasingly oversaturated, personally curated way that we experience everything now. How does this tiny Canadian movie with just us two, where nobody gets their head cut off and there's no explosions, cut through? I have no idea why."

"Swan Song," a profile of National Ballet of Canada artistic director and former dancer Karen Kain, won the $50,000 Best Canadian Documentary award.  Director Chelsea McMullan and executive producer Sean O'Neill were on hand to accept the award, which was presented by actress Tantoo Cardinal.

"It's such an honour to get this inaugural, isolated award for documentary," said McMullan.

"We need film criticism so much. When I watch a film, right after I'm done, the first thing I want to do is Google my favourite critics and read what they had to write."

McMullan told the Canadian Press she and O'Neill gave the documentary "everything we had."

"We worked so hard and our crew worked so hard. We shot over 500 hours of footage, from the day the National Ballet of Canada started rehearsal all the way up to opening night. Our cinematographers lost 25 pounds each."

She said she would be using the prize money to pay off her credit card debt.

"I'm in development on a bunch of projects and that will just allow me to have a little bit more time before I have to get a real job.

Runners-up for the two prizes each received $5,000. They include the films “Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person” and “Solo,” and the documentaries “Rojek” and “Someone Lives Here.”

Late filmmaker Charles Officer was named the recipient of the Company 3 Luminary Award, given to an industry member who has made a significant contribution to Canadian cinema. A standing ovation was given after a montage of Officer's films was played.

The award comes with a pay-it-forward prize of $50,000 in production services to be bestowed to an emerging filmmaker of the winner's choosing. Officer's business partner and friend Jake Yankowski presented the award to "Learn to Swim" director Tyrone Tommy on the departed filmmaker's behalf. Yankowski said during one of the last conversations he had with Officer, they spoke about wanting to support Tommy as a filmmaker in some capacity.

"Even from the confines of Charles' illness, he still looked to the future of supporting young filmmakers," said Yankowski.

The $10,000 Stella Artois Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist was presented to Ariane Louis-Seize, director of "Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person." She also won the best director prize at last year's Venice Days.

Previously announced TFCA winners include Jonathan Glazer's "The Zone of Interest" for best picture of the year.

Outstanding lead performance awards went to Sandra Huller for "Anatomy of a Fall" and Lily Gladstone for "Killers of the Flower Moon." It's the first year that TFCA eliminated gender-based voting for acting categories.

The outstanding supporting performance winners were Ryan Gosling for "Barbie" and Da’Vine Joy Randolph for "The Holdovers."

The prize for outstanding performance in a Canadian film, a new category, went to Glenn Howerton for his role as Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie in "BlackBerry."

Toronto-based writer and film programmer Winnie Wang was presented with the Telefilm emerging critic award. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2024.

Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press