CATEGORIES Movies
With all the awards shows competing for our attention this time of year, it can seem like one gala event bleeds into the next. But to anyone starting to feel awards season fatigue, the newly-minted Canadian Screen Awards offers an antidote to that glut, combining the year's best of film, TV and digital media for a massive one-night celebration of Canadian screen talent. The inaugural awards show, which merges the previously separate Genies and Geminis, was held in downtown Toronto Sunday evening, drawing Canadian stars from both the big and small screen.

And with Martin Short as the evening's emcee, there was no Oscar-style drama to be found on stage at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, especially not with "War Witch" (also known as "Rebelle") completing a near sweep of the film categories and "Flashpoint" landing a pair of major TV honours for best actor and best drama series.

"War Witch" Cleans Up Though it may have come up empty at the Oscars last week as Canada's official foreign film nominee, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television clearly felt differently about writer/director Kim Nguyen's acclaimed French-language film. So much so that Sunday night's show could've been named the first annual "War Witch" Awards considering the sheer number of trophies the film took home. The Congo-set child-soldier drama turned out to be a big winner on its home turf, picking up honours early and often, winning a stunning 10 of the 12 Screen Awards it was up for.

In addition to Best Picture, Nguyen won for both his original screenplay and directing and called the evening "really overwhelming," saying. "I'm completely aware that this film is a challenge for the audience, and that this subject is so tough that not everybody wanted to go see this film." So Sunday's accolades meant a lot to Nguyen, who reflected on the film's eight-year-long journey by saying, "It's been an amazing ride."

Cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc agreed, calling winning big at home "so much more fun. Winning somewhere else, it's not the same feeling, it's not the same sort of energy." Hearing your film called to the stage 10 times presumably helps.

One Night Is Better Than Two Meanwhile, the Academy hopes that Sunday night's festivities are the start of their own exciting journey, as the inaugural Screen Awards look to celebrate Canadian talent in one star-studded night as opposed to two separate events. And so the 90-minute telecast took turns alternating between honouring Canadian film and TV, though additional television awards were handed out during an industry gala held last Thursday.

Still, while combining the two industry celebrations into a single event might sound like an odd idea to some, it's just good business sense, according to Kevin O'Leary of "Dragon's Den," a Best Reality Show winner. "The more we can focus the light on Canadian media, the better it is for the country, the content we create, and hopefully makes us more globally competitive," said O'Leary. "This is certainly one of the biggest events I've ever been to in Canada, and that's great."

Martin Short had his own reasoning as to why the pairing was a good idea, joking, "After a season of awards shows in the United States, one wonders, isn't it a good idea to combine some of these?"

But for CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos, the real benefit will be felt five years from now, when TV and film talent that met at events like the Canadian Screen Awards begin to collaborate. He called Sunday night's red carpet one of the most exciting he's been on, saying, "Look at the star power that's out there. Big names, cool names."

Canada's Got Talent Those big names included everyone from Sandra Oh and Kristin Kreuk to "Bachelor Canada" Brad Smith, who was on the receiving end of a few of Short's digs. Metric singer Emily Haines was on hand to accept the award for Best Original Song for her contribution to the "Cosmopolis" soundtrack, even though David Cronenberg's latest film didn't manage an invite to the ceremony for either the filmmaker or a certain "Twilight" star.

It wasn't an entirely Canadian affair however, as James Cromwell showed up to accept the Best Actor award for his starring role in Canadian drama "Still Mine," and Bollywood actress Seema Biswas won for Deepa Mehta's "Midnight's Children." Still, the evening was all about celebrating the best in Canada's homegrown talent, like Sarah Polley, who won best documentary for "Stories We Tell," or Jay Baruchel, who earned multiple nominations for his hockey comedy "Goon."

Short Earns Good Reviews But the evening's biggest star had to be Martin Short, who brought his trademark manic energy as the show's host, from flying in on wires for his opening number to hopping into Glenn Healy's arms and pretending to be a set of bagpipes for reasons yet to be determined. He also took a dig at recent Oscar winner "Argo," quipping, "I flew in on Air Canada. Or as Ben Affleck calls it, American Airlines."

Short was quick to defend fellow awards show host Seth MacFarlane, however, saying, "I thought Seth was fantastic, he was adventurous and himself. I think it's really a daunting thing. You don't want to be too bland, you don't want to [go] too far."

Stroumboulopoulos, last year's Genies' host, thought that Short nailed that delicate balance. "I think Martin's doing a great job," he said. "Martin's fearless out there, and I like the fact that he's taking runs at everybody. I think that's really fun, it's what he should do."

The press room clearly agreed, cheering Short during his post-show press conference. But despite the good reviews, the beloved actor isn't sure if he'd come back next year if asked, joking, "I can only fly so many times. That harness chafes."