WINNERS CIRCLE: Genie Award winners Gordon Pinsent and Sarah Polley from the film Away From Her (Photo: Nicole Robicheau for Popjournalism)Canada’s darling, Sarah Polley, proves she’s come a long way since her days on Road to Avonlea, earning top honours at last night’s Genie Awards.

The 29-year-old’s feature directorial debut, Away From Her, took home golden statues for six of its seven nominations, sweeping most of the major categories: Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Julie Christie), Best Actor (Gordon Pinsent), Best Supporting Actress (Kristen Thomson), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Polley based the film on a short story by Alice Munroe).

The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television also honoured the Alzheimer-effected love story with the Claude Jutra Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement by a first-time feature film director.

Oscar-nominated actress Julie Christie was not at the event but sent her thanks via a satellite feed, thanking Polley for her determination. “I would like to give an award to Canada for producing Sarah Polley,” the actress said. “Not only is she a wonderful actor, a wonderful director, and a wonderful screenplay writer, she is also the most persistent person I have ever met. And I am so grateful to her. That she persisted in persuading me to make Away From Her one of the happiest, if not happiest, film experiences of my life.”

Upon accepting his award, the amiable Gordon Pinsent said “It would take me another lifetime to thank Sarah, and to just tell her how I feel about this entire thing.” He then quipped, “Julie also left me with a gift of some sort. We had this way too short canoodling love story, and before leaving the bed, she’d tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Well done, Gordon.’ Well, that’s on the resume.”

In her own speech, Polley thanked her mentor, director Atom Egoyan for his support and inspiration. She added that Away From Her “would never have been made without public support through organizations like Telefilm Canada and the Ontario Media Development Corp.”

But with censorship threatening to change the face of Canadian cinema, the night was also a platform for artists to voice their concerns and opinions.

Polley went on to say, “I feel extremely lucky to have had the rare experience, as a first-time filmmaker, of being able to find my own voice without constant pandering to a profit motive or to committees. I think that is what is special about making a film with public money. And I’m very grateful for it. We can never, ever stop fighting for it.”

Genie host, star of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Ontario-native Sandra Oh took her jab at the proposed amendment to the Income Tax Act early on: “I feel I can’t go on without bringing up Bill C-10. [If passed], a very small group of government bureaucrats [will have the] power to censor Canadian film and television artists by threatening to take away vital government funding. So in other words, censorship has had a little work done, and is trying to make a comeback. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound Canadian to me.”

Eastern Promises executive producer Robert Lantos accepted the Genie for Best Original Screenplay and took the opportunity to provide his criticism, saying “this screenplay is chock full of powerful, frank, honest, original scenes. Just the kind that, if some barbarians have their way, are no longer going to be permissible in Canadian cinema.”

Heading into the ceremony, David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises and Roger Spottiswoode’s Shake Hands with the Devil had 12 nominations each.

While Eastern Promises took home a noteworthy seven Genies for Best Original Screenplay, Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Armin Mueller-Stahl), Original Score (Howard Shore), Editing (Ronald Sanders) and Cinematography (Peter Suschitzky), Shake Hands with the Devil was awarded a disappointing one for Best Original Song.

The winners circle was rounded out by Fido for Art Direction, Radiant City for Documentary, Silk for Costume Design, Apres Tout for Live-action Short Drama, and the Oscar-nominated Madame Tutli-Putli claimed the Genie for Best Animated Short.

Bruce McDonald’s The Tracey Fragments, an experimental story about a troubled teen starring Ellen Page, was disappointingly shut out of the prize category.

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