TORONTO - The Oscar-nominated child soldier drama "Rebelle" leads the film nominations at the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards, a newly minted bash that celebrates the best in homegrown film and TV.
Kim Nguyen's harrowing feature, also known as "War Witch," dominates the pack with 12 nominations — including best picture and best director.
It will compete in those categories against Xavier Dolan's gender-bending drama "Laurence Anyways," which earned 10 nominations, and Deepa Mehta's sprawling historical epic "Midnight's Children," which drew eight.
"We were surprised when we heard we were the film with the most nominations," "Rebelle" producer Pierre Even said Tuesday at a Montreal press conference.
"We're very happy for all the various people in the different categories because it was a difficult film to make. It was shot in Africa, in Congo, and people worked so hard. They put their whole heart into it."
On the TV side, CTV's cop hit "Flashpoint" leads with 11 nominations, while The Movie Network comedy "Less Than Kind," which also airs on HBO Canada, scored 10.
The first-ever nominees for the Canadian Screen Awards were announced Tuesday at simultaneous news conferences in Toronto and Montreal.
The award honours achievement in both Canadian television and film, replacing the previously separate Gemini and Genie Awards.
Helga Stephenson, chief executive officer of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, said in Toronto that any comparisons to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's similarly structured Golden Globe Awards is welcomed.
"A Golden Globes vision is not a bad vision, you know," Stephenson says of that star-studded affair, a notoriously unpredictable bash that includes dinner and free-flowing booze.
"It's something that we would love to get to but we need to find the space to do that. (This year) we've gone into a very glamorous space at the Sony Centre."
Martin Short will host the first awards gala March 3 in Toronto, with the two-hour ceremony set to air on CBC-TV.
Perennial awards darling "Flashpoint" earned nods for best drama, best writing in a drama and best actor in a drama (for Enrico Colantoni). It will face off against CBC's "Arctic Air," Global's "Bomb Girls" and the Showcase series "Continuum" and "King."
"Flashpoint" co-star Sergio Di Zio, who is up for best supporting actor, says he was especially pleased the show's final season was heartily embraced.
"I just saw my executive producers and (we said), 'It's good to be "Flashpoint." It's really good to be "Flashpoint,"'" says Di Zio, noting that the drama often led the nominations at the old Geminis.
"We got spoiled. We got spoiled every year and it's wonderful to get recognized by everybody. Because a lot of hard work goes into that show from top to bottom."
The TV comedy race includes The Movie Network/Movie Central's "Good God," Showcase's "Kenny Hotz Triumph of the Will," TMN's "Less Than Kind" and CBC series: "Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays" and "Mr. D."
The Canadian Screen Awards are just the latest accolades for "Rebelle," an unflinching look at a teenage girl who's forced to become a child soldier in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The film is also nominated for an Oscar in the best foreign-language film category.
That makes Nguyen the third Quebec writer-director in a row to compete in the Oscar category, after Philippe Falardeau's "Monsieur Lazhar" and Denis Villeneuve's "Incendies" rode a wave of acclaim to the Academy Awards.
Other films with multiple nods at the Canadian Screen Awards include Michael McGowan's "Still Mine" with seven nominations, Michael Dowse's hockey comedy "Goon" with six, and Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette's "Inch'Allah," with five.
"Goon" star Jay Baruchel tweeted his delight at making the cut.
"Words can't describe how honoured and proud I am of our movie and everything that's happened with it," Baruchel said in a post made Tuesday.
"This is just the coolest."
"Goon" producer Don Carmody suggested such acclaim would not have been possible before sweeping changes were made to the academy in 2011.
"In the old days, (with) the old academy, it would be: 'Ooh, "Goon." Too rude, too crude, too popular, we can't possibly award it,'" says Carmody, whose other nominated films include "Silent Hill: Revelation 3D" and "Resident Evil: Retribution."
Carmody says he's long been "agitating for" a combined film and TV bash.
"When I produced the picture called 'Polytechnique' we were nominated for 11 awards at the Genies and the ceremony was frankly embarrassing. We were on folding chairs in a drafty old discotheque. It was just ridiculous."
He says combining the awards also combines the star wattage, thereby bringing more attention to each field.
"Quite frankly, most Canadians don't know that the 'Resident Evils' and 'Silent Hills' and all of those are Canadian films but they are, and the same thing with a lot of the big international co-productions in television," he says.
"As Canadians become more familiar with what really is out there that is Canadian, I think they'll come to appreciate the level of expertise and talent that exists in this country."
The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television introduced the new award last fall.
At the time, it called the prize "a true reflection of the multi-platform universe of today," noting that the award would also celebrate digital achievements.
Notable nominees this year include writer Salman Rushdie, who is up for a best adapted screenplay award for re-fashioning his own novel "Midnight's Children" for the big screen. He's up against David Cronenberg for "Cosmopolis," Baruchel and Evan Goldberg for "Goon," Anita Doron for "The Lesser Blessed" and Martin Villeneuve for "Mars et Avril."
Brandon Cronenberg's debut feature "Antiviral" and Martin Villeneuve's first film "Mars et Avril" each got four nominations while David Cronenberg's star-studded "Cosmopolis" drew three nods.
"I hope eventually that these awards will become very much like the Golden Globes," says Carmody, adding that the key is to make it fun for the presenters and the nominees.
"When we find they can get a venue where we can have a dinner and drinks and all of that — like the Golden Globes — I think you'll find that we'll attract all that talent that's going to make for good television, as well."
Meanwhile, competition in the national news categories has tightened.
After refusing to participate for years, CTV is back in the race after submitting its flagship series "CTV National News With Lisa LaFlamme" and "W5" for consideration
It's resulted in eight nominations, including best news information series for "W5." The show will compete in that category against Global's "16 x9," "CBC News Connect with Mark Kelley," and the two CBC series "Marketplace" and "the fifth estate."
LaFlamme will compete for best news anchor against CBC's Peter Mansbridge and Global anchors Dawna Friesen, Chris Gailus and Leslie Roberts.
However, CTV says it refrained from submitting entries to the local news categories.
"We are taking a measured approach to returning to full participation, but believe the academy has taken steps to address our previous concerns," Wendy Freeman, president, CTV News said in a statement.
"The academy is making positive progress in re-establishing the awards as a credible measure of excellence for Canadian film and television."