The 2021 Canadian Screen Awards — featuring a curated selection of prominent awards — took place on Thursday, May 20 at 8:00 PM ET, streamed live on Academy.ca along with the Academy’s YouTube and Twitter channels.
The awards were presented documentary-style, with narration by Karine Vanasse and Stephan James, to allow the nominated work to speak for itself and be the centerpiece of our presentations.
The show also honoured a selection of 2020 Special Award recipients, all of whom were unfortunately unable to be awarded last year due to the cancellation of all in-person events:
- Earle Grey Award recipient Tina Keeper
- Radius Award (presented by MADE | NOUS) recipient Dan Levy
- Lifetime Achievement Award recipient David Suzuki
- Margaret Collier Award recipient David Shore
- Academy Icon Award recipient Alex Trebek
Beth Janson is the Chief Executive Officer of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. With over two decades of experience in the film, television and cultural sectors in both Canada and the United States, Beth has been the creative force behind some of the most innovative and meaningful developmental programs in the industry today.
The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television is the largest non-profit professional arts organization in Canada. We are dedicated to recognizing, advocating for, and celebrating Canadian talent in the film, television, and digital media sectors. Our more than 4,000 members encompass industry icons and professionals, emerging artists, and students. Collectively, we deliver professional development programs and networking opportunities that foster industry growth, inclusion, and mentorship.
The Canadian Academy produces the Canadian Screen Awards, bringing together the screen-based industry annually to celebrate the country’s top talent in the film, television, and digital sectors at Canadian Screen Week.
The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television proudly acknowledges the support of its Premier Partner, Telefilm Canada; Platinum Partners, CBC and CTV; Principal Partner, Netflix; and its Lead Partners, the Canada Media Fund, Cineplex, and the Cogeco Fund.
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Catherine: Welcome everyone to the WestVancouver.com podcast. We are back, and today we are going glam with a salute to the Canadian way. In this case, it means television, cinema, film, and digital arts.
We have somebody very sparkly and very spectacular on the phone with us. It is the CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. It is Beth Jansen. Welcome, Beth.
Beth Jansen: Thank you for having me.
Catherine: Well, it is a delight to have you here because our association with the Academy goes back a long, long way. Needless to say, we are massive fans of television, cinema, and film. Everybody loves the glamour and seeing our favourite actors, but for me, it goes deeper than that, and I’m guessing that is the case with you as well. So, Beth, lead us off. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with the Academy.
Beth Jansen: I believe it’s relevant, so I will start by telling you that I did a year of university at UBC in the mid-’90s. I’ve always had family living in Vancouver, so I feel like I’m an honorary West Coaster. I grew up in Montreal, and after university, moved down to New York City. I spent 20 years in New York, working in theatre, then in television, and helping launch the Tribeca Film Institute, which is the non-profit arm of the Tribeca Film Festival. I got married, had three kids, and decided that I would like my kids to have some Canadian culture. We moved back in 2016, before the election, but needless to say, we were very relieved to be in Canada during that crazy era.
The opportunity at the Academy was really interesting for me because I felt like there was so much talent in Canada that was on par with the talent that I was seeing in the US. I felt like there was an opportunity to have a real impact, develop that Canadian talent, and give that talent the recognition it deserved. I wanted to try and shift the narrative a little bit around Canadian content because I certainly was aware of the branding issue that Canadian content has – and the more that I educated myself and saw the work, the more I realized that it wasn’t true. I wanted to try and shift that narrative a little bit. It was a big, big challenge.
Catherine: Yes, you’ve come from the Great White Way to the Canadian way now. Everybody loves to make these comparisons, especially outside the industry where we’re often compared to Hollywood. I know there’s a bit of a battle always underway between Toronto and Vancouver for who is the true ‘Hollywood North’. Still, I think we split that title pretty equally amongst everybody in Canada. There is excellent work going on in Calgary, across the prairies and more. There is great work going on from coast to coast. We really are lucky. You mentioned the whole idea of the Canadian identity, what we do, and how we do it. This is the whole point behind the Academy – to promote diversity and all the things that we do even better than the American and even the European way. They have a much longer history with film and television than we do perhaps, but I agree with you wholeheartedly. We have a Canadian label, but that label is outstanding. It’s an excellent label to have these days. Do you find that we’re climbing up in our nation of Canadian talent worldwide?
Beth Jansen: Yes, I think absolutely. It’s wonderful that we have other countries responding to our content. It just proves that audiences love it. That is a wonderful thing to know and to wave that flag. But I think that we struggle a little bit with all the comparisons to the US and to Europe. We compare, and we don’t look at our history. The Film Board of Canada was making newsreels, sort of patriotic, some might even say, slightly propaganda-like films during the war. We really did develop this cultural institution that led the way for our work and the commercial work (and the more blatantly commercial work). We didn’t really have a system to support that. I think we still really don’t. So, the commercial work we do here, which is world-class, is often not written here and not developed here. It is produced by companies outside of Canada, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I just think that we should just recognize that. I think we are starting to develop our scripted content, which you can see in television. I think that our films this year at the Canadian Screen Awards were some of the most audience-friendly work I’ve seen since I’ve been here. I think there’s a lot of change happening. It’s an exciting time to be at the Academy.
Catherine: It is. I envy you so much. It sounds like the dream job. But I’m sure it comes with a vast slate of responsibilities that we can’t even imagine because there are 4,000 members in the Academy alone. The awards used to be divided between the Gemini Awards, which were television, and the Genie Awards, which recognized film. I’ve been to both, and I love them both. And again, you have your big famous faces out front. When I dug deeper, I found amazing composers, outstanding directors, and many women involved in the industry. How wonderful is that? We are evolving in terms of awards. I feel that Canadian awards are becoming more genuine, even more so after 2013 when the Gemini awards and the Genie awards merged. Now, you arrived just after that, but tell us a little bit of the reasons behind that merger. What happened around 2013 that made this maybe a better choice?
Beth Jansen: Well, I honestly think it was driven a little bit for financial reasons. This was about four years before my time. From what I understand, the Academy was overextended. We had regional offices in Vancouver, LA, and Halifax, as well as Montreal and Toronto. It was bleeding money and not able to sustain itself. I think doing two award shows was also a huge enterprise. They were thinking about streamlining everything. That’s how the Canadian Screen Awards were born. I think that we shouldn’t be classifying content based on cinema, film or television. We need to have a more sophisticated way of classifying content because it’s all over the place now.
Catherine: Yes, the screen has turned into streaming. So, it doesn’t really matter if you’re on TV or film, and we saw that especially with the Academy Awards. We all watched big-screen movies on what is technically our small screens at home, but the digital world has definitely forced that hand. I agree with you entirely. It’s a good idea to put it all together. As I said, there’s been a long history of great programs that we’ve watched here. You’ve handed out a slew of awards this year that also recognized news journalism and our local newscasts. We’ve had a few Vancouver based journalists recognized. Dawna Friesen and also Mike Killeen’s team on CBC. Of course, one of the most animated series nominated this year was Corner Gas Animated and Brent Butt, who we claim as our own in Vancouver. And I mean, talk about Canadian, we can’t go through this without mentioning these programs. Of course, we’re talking about Schitt’s Creek starring Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy and the latest rising star, Eugene’s son, Dan Levy. Their comedy, their timeless rhythm and improvisation are what makes people laugh. They have been doing this for a long, long time. The last breakthrough program that I can think of that’s been high profile this past year is Canada’s Drag Race.
It was initially popular in the US. We take ideas from country to country and make our version of it. The Property Brothers, Drew and Jonathan Scott, a lot of people think they are American. So, we’ve got a lot of big-name projects that happened this year. What jumped out for you? Let’s talk about Schitt’s Creek because their star just keeps rising.
Beth Jansen: Yes, I mean, the idea that a show would sweep the Emmys – historically, nobody has ever done that before, and in its sixth season. That is unheard of. We are proud that we have been awarding it for all six seasons. Catherine O’Hara has won Best Actress every single year. That, for the show, and, for me, was a validation that our content can travel.
I don’t know if you or your listeners are aware of all the stuff that’s going on regarding revising the Broadcasting Act, but originally content was programmed in the national interest. It really was for Canadians to teach Canadians about Canada. I think we need legislation that really changes that and catches up to the reality that voices travel across borders. When you just think of the impact that Schitt’s Creek had with just the positivity of it. I think the point that Dan makes is the idea that someone was just living their life and happened to be gay and in a place that wasn’t prejudice was really transformative because it shows you the way that things should be. It’s a very special series.
Catherine: It is. And Kim’s convenience as well. We laugh at this when you think about cross reaching and breaking border issues. The cultural differences are how he celebrates it. I agree with you, we’ve always been a little bit… documentary, but that isn’t maybe the best word for it. There’s always been a ‘let’s learn something if we’re going to make a movie’ approach. I do agree that it was always kind of a Canadian way to teach something. There are great shows: Toxic Beauty, and also the story of Gordon Lightfoot ‘If You Could Read My Mind’. They have amazing storylines and yet have an entertainment quality on a more serious topic. I’m really proud of that.
Now, this last year threw a wrench into everything with the pandemic. As I understand it, you had to literally switch into reverse as quickly as possible because you were ready for your 2020 Awards and had to change it up suddenly. And now 2021 has come along, and we’re still recovering from the limits the pandemic has put on us. So, what that means basically is no in-person awards just yet. Everything’s being done virtually. Tell us how you tackled that whole situation.
Beth Jansen: It was a challenge. It was easier this year because we did have time. We made the decision really early on that we were going virtual and to not attempt any in-person programming. Now, this was controversial back in the summer when things looked like they were settling down, but I’m glad we did it in the end. Last year was total chaos because we basically had this plan for a broadcast show and these huge events and had to cancel those only two weeks out.
Catherine: And it’s a whole week-long celebration now – Canadian Screen Week. When you host, the host city puts on all kinds of great events and panels too. So, it’s a real bummer, for lack of a better word, when it got wiped out last year. Virtual has been the new way.
Beth Jansen: Well, yes, virtual has been the way. I would love to never do another virtual award show ever in my life. There have been positives about it – people who were hesitant about adopting technology had to adapt to continue working, so that has been amazing. But, yes, I think we’re definitely going to take some of what we learned by doing things virtually and integrate that into a new kind of show moving forward.
Catherine: Yes, it’s not a lot of fun for people like me who love a good red carpet and all the photos. So we are looking to the past for all those glam photos. Last year, at this time, we were covering this exact topic with you.
We talked about the Levy family, particularly Dan Levy, who was the recipient of a special award in 2020/21 – but two other award winners come to mind also. We mention them again this year because we didn’t get to fully celebrate it last year. The first is David Suzuki. He is one of those ones that I remember as a kid growing up. ‘The Nature Of Things’ was one of those programs that we were probably talking about that teaches you something, but you just watched it because you loved it. He’s been an activist and environmentalist – and to have him included in the Screen Awards is amazing. Then there’s another big name which everybody knows, Alex Trebek, who sadly passed away from pancreatic cancer last year, but another ‘iconic’ award winner. Beth, can you talk about these special category awards for us?
Beth Jansen: I think that the Lifetime Achievement Award for David Suzuki is . . ., well frankly, I was really surprised that he hadn’t already received one. I can’t think of another journalist who’s had a bigger impact on Canadians. Before the internet and streaming, we were used to having ‘The Nature Of Things’ as part of our weekly appetites – and certainly, it kind of personifies what we do in making complicated or highbrow sorts of complex topics acceptable and humanizing them. I think that David has been a leader in doing that globally. The show has been airing for about 40+ years. It’s had a huge impact on Canadians and on spreading the Canadian ethos around the world. It’s a hit here, but it’s also been a hit in 20 other countries around the world.
I think both David Suzuki and Alex Trebek have this discipline – the discipline that comes from committing yourself to one show for your entire life. Alex Trebek received our Icon Award. He became iconic around the world, and the role he had was very much that of a diplomatic facilitator. Alex was someone that tried to challenge people, to bring out the best in them, and I think that was a wonderful way for us to recognize the impact that he had around the world. He lived in the US and was based in the US, but he was a member of the Academy for 30 years. He would call us every year to renew his membership and send us a cheque in the mail. He was committed to keeping the industry and Canada strong.
Catherine: Well, another name that comes to mind is Christopher Plummer. He was one of your recipients not long ago. We forget just how iconic and how big some of our stars can be. We tend to put the emphasis on the more prominent names, the famous faces. It’s just how it works – but what I like is there’s so much more here. The Screen Awards also highlights works by Indigenous writers and directors, and we’re bringing out works by women. There are also smaller projects that, to be blunt, wouldn’t have a chance in any other country. We see these tiny seeds that grow into these massive projects, and who knows where it goes next.
Beth, is there a special program near and dear to your heart that the public doesn’t know about?
Beth Jansen: I think my team at the Academy has the privilege of probably watching the most Canadian content of anyone else in the country, and I do believe there are some incredible programs that are under the radar. The APTN, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, had a reality series called ‘First Contact’. They sought out white Canadians who had strong and negative opinions of Indigenous Canadians. They brought them together and took them on a tour of Indigenous communities and made them confront their prejudices. It was powerful. It was on for two seasons, and that’s one show that I wish had had more of an impact across Canada.
Catherine: It’s an entirely unfair question but do you think we’ll be back to normal next year? Are we going to get back onto that red carpet? Is that the intention? And also, what do you see as being in the future for the Academy and the awards program?
Beth Jansen: That’s our goal. To get back to being in-person. We have some exciting ideas for how to create a hybrid show. We’re also going to try and play with the format because, as you know, the awards show format is dropping in ratings around the world, and that is also happening here. But again, I think we have an advantage in that our show has a lot of substance. It’s about discovery and not just fancy people, although that is a lot of fun as well. So, I think what we’re interested in is being leaders in the industry and in the country.
Catherine: There you go. Beth, thank you so much for joining us today. What does the future hold? It is yet to be told – and it will be told by the storytellers and the writers, directors, musicians and actors that we get to call Canadian. Thank you so much, everybody, for joining us. And Beth, again, thank you for joining us as well. To our listeners out there, look us up online at WestVancouver Magazine – Podcast. We’re available on Apple podcast and on Spotify. For those of you that prefer, simply go to WestVancouver.com and as we say, just press play. Until next time, I hope you will stay in touch and save me a smile.