Five Essential Cultural Canucks

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A landmark shift in the way Canadians celebrate homegrown film and television achievements takes place this week when the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television (ACCT) debuts the Canadian Screen Awards – a combination of the former Genie and the Gemini awards.

While it’s true that Canadians, generally, are not bred to brag, the Academy plans to shake off the veil of humility by recognizing those whom it calls “game changers”: a select few who will receive the Board of Directors’ Academy Special Awards for their contributions to Canadian entertainment. The complete list of those honorees appears at the end of this article. Before we get to that, however, we decided to expand on the existing list of deserving winners and compile our own group of Canadians who have both found success in showbiz, and then subsequently used their stature to nourish and expand Canada’s entertainment industry. What follows is our Zoomer list of five essential cultural Canucks.

Atom Egoyan
Film and Stage Director
Claim to Fame:
Exotica captured our attention, The Sweet Hereafter touched our hearts, and Chloe steamed up our windows.
Why We’re Proud He’s Canadian: Egoyan’s a captivating storyteller who doesn’t need Hollywood gimmicks or big budget blue aliens (sorry James Cameron) to tell the tale. And while Egoyan has found success in the U.S., he continues to create projects at home. This spring he helms a re-staging of his 1996 Canadian Opera Company production of Salome, and will direct Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte for the company next year. He’s also directed theatre productions for Canadian Stage. On top of that, another of Canada’s brightest directors, Sarah Polley, counts Egoyan among her mentors. To review, Egoyan’s a storyteller who dedicates himself to multiple Canadian mediums, significantly enhances the profile of Canadian cinema around the world, and serves as a role model for the next generation of filmmakers. If he could find time to balance the federal budget or devise a way to help a Canadian hockey team win the Stanley Cup, we may just nominate him for Prime Minister.

Sarah Polley
Claim to Fame:
Toronto-born Polley caught our attention in the CBC’s Road to Avonlea and in the Atom Egoyan films Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter before blossoming into a feature-length director with Away from Her and the critically-acclaimed documentary Stories We Tell, in which she unlocks her own family’s deepest secrets.  
Why We’re Proud She’s Canadian: Polley dropped the leading role of Penny Lane in Cameron Crowe’s hit 2000 film Almost Famous and opted to return to Canada to star in the low-budget film The Law of Enclosures. Almost Famous garnered four Oscar nominations and won for best original screenplay. The Law of Enclosures made $1000 at the box office. This alone exemplifies Polley’s loyalty to Canada. Also, her debut film, Away from Her, was based on the Alice Munro short story, A Bear Came Over the Mountain. Other than a moose munching on a poutine inside a hockey arena, nothing screams “Proudly Canadian!” like a Sarah Polley film based on an Alice Munro short story.

Lorne Michaels
Claim to Fame: He created Saturday Night (later renamed Saturday Night Live) in 1975, writing and executive producing the show. He also executive produces NBC’s Late Night, 30 Rock and Up All Night.
Why We’re Proud He’s Canadian: Michaels has won more than 18 Emmy Awards for Saturday Night Live, all the while helping to support Canadian comedians and actors by giving them a break on SNL. That list includes: Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd, Norm MacDonald, Phil Hartman, and Martin Short among others. He’s also branched out from television and into film, where his writing and/or producing credits include the classic Three Amigos, the beloved Wayne’s World, the hilarious Coneheads, and, well, also MacGruber. Okay, so they can’t all be hits, but nine times out of 10, when it comes to comedy, Lorne Michaels knocks it out of the park.

Helga Stephenson
Claim to Fame:
Have you ever heard of this little thing we do in Toronto called the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)? Stephenson headed TIFF for 17 years, working tirelessly to put the festival on the international map. Are you gearing up for the inaugural broadcast of the shiny new Canadian Screen Awards? Well she’s currently in charge of that too, as CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. So, yeah, she’s kind of a big deal.
Why We’re Proud She’s Canadian: Hollywood heavyweights such as George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Brad and Angelina don’t stumble into Toronto by accident. More than three decades ago, the idea that a Canadian film festival could compete with the prestige of other fests, such as Cannes, while attracting Hollywood’s biggest stars, seemed laughable. Now, going into its 37th year, TIFF is a globally respected festival that attracts swarms of international media and the world’s biggest film stars. It also helped put Toronto on the map as “Hollywood north,” and offers inspiration to Canadian filmmakers and actors/actresses to pursue their artistic dreams. Stephenson helped bring TIFF to that level. Will she do the same for the Canadian Screen Awards?

Robert Lantos
Claim to Fame:
Aside from his myriad of film and television producing credits (Ararat, SunshineBarney’s Version, Due South, etc.) Lantos was also a member of CBC’s board of directors and built Canada’s leading film and television content company, Alliance Communications.
Why We’re Proud He’s Canadian:
Lantos isn’t resting on the laurels of his resume, his Order of Canada, or his Doctor of Letters (McGill University). His latest project is undoubtedly his most “Canadian” of all – convincing the CRTC to add Starlight, a movie channel dedicated to Canadian films, to basic cable. “You, as a taxpayer, have already contributed significantly to the entire body of work of Canadian film, because Canadian film has been subsidized for the last 50 years,” Lantos told CBC. “You might want access to those films you have financed.”

The complete list of 2013 Canadian Screen Award Board of Directors’ Academy Special Award recipients, courtesy of the Canadian Screen Awards website:

Academy Achievement Award
— For Exceptional Contributions to the Canadian Television Industry: Jeanne Beker,

Host of Fashion Television Channel

Academy Board of Directors Tribute
— For Outstanding and Enduring Contributions to Canadian Television: Flashpoint

Academy Special Award 
— For Exceptional Achievement in Canadian Film & Television: Ian Greenberg, President and Chief Executive Officer, Astral Media Inc.

Academy Special Film Award — For Exceptional Achievement in Filmmaking or Service to the Film Industry: Victor Loewy

Digital Media Trail Blazing Award — For an Outstanding Achievement in Canadian Digital Media sponsored by the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC): Andra Sheffer

Gordon Sinclair Award for Broadcast Journalism 
— To Honour Exceptional Contributions in Canadian Television Journalism: The Honourable Laurier Lucien LaPierre, O.C.

Margaret Collier Award
—For a Writer’s Exceptional Contribution to Canadian Television: Heather Conkie

Outstanding Technical Achievement Award
—For Recent Technical Achievements: IMAX Corporation for its suite of entertainment technologies