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Clement Virgo's film 'Brother' wins a record 12 Canadian Screen Awards

TORONTO — Clement Virgo's deeply personal film about Black boyhood dominated the Canadian Screen Awards Thursday as members of the entertainment scene gathered for the first in-person festivities in four years. "Brother," a Scarborough, Ont.
Clement Virgo holds the award for "Adapted Screenplay" for the movie "Brother" at the Cinematic Arts Awards evening at the Canadian Screen Awards, in Toronto, on Thursday, April 13, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Clement Virgo's deeply personal film about Black boyhood dominated the Canadian Screen Awards Thursday as members of the entertainment scene gathered for the first in-person festivities in four years.

"Brother," a Scarborough, Ont.-set coming-of-age tale, nabbed a record 12 awards, including three with Virgo's name on them: best motion picture, best-adapted screenplay, and achievement in directing. 

The veteran filmmaker said he rushed to the awards ceremony after a day of working on a Netflix series called "The Madness" and was looking forward to celebrating with his cast and crew.

"I ran from set, had a quick shower at a gym up the street, and ran down here," a beaming Virgo said on the red carpet before the show, dressed in a sharp black suit and tie. 

The adaptation of David Chariandy's novel of the same name, which dives into societal challenges facing two Jamaican-Canadian brothers in the 1990s, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and made TIFF’s Top Ten list for 2022. 

In a backstage gathering that included every member of the "Brother" team, Virgo expressed the impact of a film that chooses to centre the culturally diverse neighbourhood east of Toronto, showcasing hangouts such as barbershops, parks and dance halls.

"I’ve seen films from Brooklyn, L.A., Paris and around the world, and I think Scarborough is just as viable as any of those communities. It’s just as vibrant, and eclectic, and I’m proud that all of us represent Scarborough," said Virgo.

"Brother" is Virgo's first film in 15 years, after focusing his career on TV directing and producing. 

"As a filmmaker, as a writer, as an artist, hopefully (you) inspire the next generation of filmmakers ... to tell a story about their own community and about their own personal lives," he said. 

Toronto's Lamar Johnson nabbed the award for performance in a leading role for his portrayal of the younger brother Michael, while Aaron Pierre, who plays the elder Francis, took home performance in a supporting role. This marks the first year the Canadian Screen Awards for acting were gender-neutral. 

"I want to thank my mother who is in the front row — without her sacrifice, I wouldn’t be here so I want to thank her dearly," Johnson said in his acceptance speech, noting the parallels between his own Jamaican-Canadian background and that of his character.

"It was such a truly incredible experience to make this movie with this crew. I hope Black and brown kids from Scarborough can watch this film and see themselves."

"Brother" also won awards for its costumes, hair and production design, along with casting, music, sound mixing, sound editing and art direction. It's the most awarded Canadian film since the CSAs were established in 2013, a representative said.

This is the second time the CSAs have honoured Virgo in this way. In 2016, the CBC miniseries "The Book of Negroes," which he directed, produced and co-wrote, won 11 of the awards, including three for Virgo specifically. 

It was the second-to-last night of a week of live events celebrating Canada's media and entertainment industry, which is due to wrap up Friday evening with a gala recognizing television drama and comedies.

It's a new format for the CSAs, which will broadcast a pre-recorded special of the week's highlights on CBC and CBC Gem on Sunday night. 

It's also the first time in four years that the event has been held in person after the COVID-19 pandemic forced awards shows to go virtual.

Also Thursday, David Cronenberg's "Crimes of the Future" took home awards for achievement in makeup and in visual effects.

Stéphane Lafleur’s sci-fi dystopian drama "Viking" won achievement in cinematography. 

Anthony Shim won best original screenplay for the festival darling "Riceboy Sleeps," about a South Korean widow struggling to establish a new life in 1990s Canada with her son.

"Being nominated and having the kind of press attention we’re getting, I can only hope that more people ... decide that they actually want to go to the theatres and experience the film," Shim said about the importance of awards recognition.

“For the Korean community, I just hope that people who’ve watched this film can see these characters on screen and feel as if they’ve been represented in an honest way. That’s always been my goal in the beginning, that I do right by my community first.”

The Oscar-nominated short film "The Flying Sailor" won best animated short, while "Simo" won that award's live-action counterpart. 

"The Porter" is the top contender at Friday's celebration of Canada's TV scene, which gets underway at 7 p.m.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2023.

Noel Ransome and Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

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