BlackBerry, Swan Song Win Rogers Best Canadian Film and Best Canadian Documentary

March 5, 2024

BlackBerry and Swan Song win the Rogers Best Canadian Film and Rogers Best Canadian Documentary awards | Elevation Pictures / Visitor Media

The homegrown tech-tale BlackBerry has won the Toronto Film Critics  Association’s 2023 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award. Its companion prize, Rogers Best Canadian Documentary, was awarded to the intimate and elegiac ballet chronicle Swan Song.

BlackBerry is the acclaimed story of the outsized personalities and feverish vision that launched the all-Canadian smartphone, which dominated the early part of this century. Swan Song chronicles the struggle to launch a production of Swan Lake to relaunch the National Ballet post-pandemic, and mark the triumphant final bow in dancer/director Karen Kain’s storied career.

For the first time, the richest annual film prize in Canada is being shared by narrative and documentary features, with $50,000 to each winner. Producer/director Don McKellar and screen legend Tantoo Cardinal presented the awards to BlackBerry producer/director Matthew Johnson and Swan Song director/co-writer Chelsea McMullan, respectively.

Starring Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton and director Johnson, BlackBerry is a tale of overnight success and hubris that was named one of the top-10 independent films of the year by the National Board of Review. Swan Song, which conveyed the pain, ambition and frustration of dance on multiple levels, has featured at several film festivals and aired as an expanded four-part series on CBC.

As runners-up in their categories, directors Ariane Louis-Seize (Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person) and Sophie Dupuis (Solo), and documentarians Zaynê Akyol (Rojek) and Zack Russell (Someone Lives Here) each received $5,000 from Rogers Communications.

Hosted by actress Amanda Brugel (The Handmaid’s Tale, Infinity Pool), the ceremony took place at a gala dinner held March 4, 2024 at The Omni King Edward Hotel in Toronto, featuring a Prime Video cocktail party, and a Netflix dinner.

These awards featured two new categories, and a twist.  The acting awards were gender-free, with two Outstanding Lead Performance winners (Killers of the Flower Moon’s Lily Gladstone and Anatomy of a Fall’s Sandra Hüller) and two Outstanding Supporting Performances (Barbie’s Ryan Gosling and The Holdovers’ Da’Vine Joy Randolph).

In the new categories, Glenn Howerton, who played tech mogul Jim Balsillie in the movie BlackBerry, won for Outstanding Performance in a Canadian Film; and Teyana Taylor won Breakthrough Performance for her emotionally lucid work in A Thousand and One.

“In the aftermath of the dual strikes in Hollywood, the TFCA Awards showcase the depth and breadth of films that could only be made by humans,” Johanna Schneller, TFCA President, said. “It’s an especial honour to call attention to the variety and vibrancy of Canadian film.”

“These winners are the reason the Rogers Best Documentary and Best Canadian Film Award exist,” said Rogers Group of Funds director Robin Mirsky. “Both Swan Song and BlackBerry depict real Canadian events, one as a chronicle and one as a fictionalized drama. In both cases, they capture moments that inspire us, fascinate us, and reflect who we are.”

At the gala, Brugel and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Kim’s Convenience) introduced video acceptance speeches from director Mstyslav Chernov (Allan King Documentary Award winner, 20 Days in Mariupol), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Outstanding Supporting Performance, The Holdovers), lead actress Alma Pöysti (on behalf of Aki Kaurismäki’s Best International Film, Fallen Leaves), co-writer Eric Roth (Best Adapted Screenplay, Killers of the Flower Moon), director Pablo Berger (Best Animated Feature, Robot Dreams), director Raine Allen-Miller (Best First Feature, Rye Lane) and actor Glenn Howerton (Outstanding Performance in a Canadian Film, BlackBerry). Producer James Wilson spoke on behalf of both Best Picture The Zone of Interest and Best Director Jonathan Glazer, with a speech about “selective empathy” in a world of suffering innocents.

Best-selling author and recent Canadian citizen John Irving (The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany) presented the $10,000 Stella Artois Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist to Quebec filmmaker Ariane Louis-Seize, whose darkly comic feature film debut Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person was a Rogers Best Canadian Film finalist.

In its mission to recognize new voices in film criticism, the TFCA gave Winnie Wang the fifth annual Telefilm Canada Emerging Critic Award, presented by comedy and TV personality Rick Mercer. Wang has a Master’s Degree from U of T’s Cinema Studies Institute, and was a programmer for TIFF’s Next Wave. The award comes with a prize of $1,000.

And this year’s Company 3 Luminary Award was presented posthumously to Charles Officer (Nurse Fighter Boy, Unarmed Verses, Akilla’s Escape, The Porter) who died late last year. TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey spoke from the heart about Officer’s contributions to film and society. A pay-it-forward initiative, the award allows the recipient to donate $50,000 in post-production services from Company 3 to another filmmaker. Officer’s longtime producing partner Jake Yanowski announced Thyrone Tommy (Learn to Swim) as the recipient.

On the red carpet, entertainment journalist/interviewer Teri Hart welcomed eminent members of the film industry and the civic and cultural communities, including … the BlackBerry gang – actor Jay Baruchel and spouse/social media personality Rebecca Dunham-Baruchel, director Matthew Johnson, producers Fraser Ash and Kevin Krikst and co-writer Matt Miller – Oscar-winning author John Irving, Kim’s Convenience dad Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person director and actor Ariane Louis-Seize and Sara Montpetit, Solo director and actor Sophie Dupuis and Alice Moreault, Swan Song’s Karen Kain and her husband, actor Ross Petty, director Zack Russell (Someone Lives Here), actor Tantoo Cardinal (Killers of the Flower Moon), comic/commentator/author Rick Mercer, writer-producer Don McKellar (The Sympathizer), producers/documentarians Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier, former Toronto Mayor John Tory, Canadian Film Centre CEO maxine bailey, comic/actor Gerry Dee (Mr. D), actor Jamie Thomas King (The Tudors, Mad Men), Cineplex President Ellis Jacob, Universal Music Canada President Jeff Remedios, Elevation Pictures co-founders Laurie May and Noah Segal and Telefilm Canada CEO Julie Roy.

The TFCA is extremely grateful to Rogers Communications for the Rogers Best Canadian Film and the Rogers Best Canadian Documentary. TFCA thanks returning sponsors Labatt for the Stella Artois Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist, Netflix as the Dinner sponsor, Air Canada as Official Airline and Company 3 as the Company 3 Luminary Award sponsor. The TFCA salutes sponsors Prime Video as the Cocktail Reception sponsor, Telefilm Canada as the Telefilm Canada Emerging Critic sponsor and Pinnacle Live as the Official AV Sponsor. The TFCA also thanks sponsors Cineplex Entertainment, Omni King Edward Hotel and salutes stalwart supporters, G.H. Mumm Champagne, L’Eat Catering, Zoomer Magazine, The Printing House and Chairman Mills.