Just an Afterthought: Quebec's Jutras

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Winner of 9 Jutras on the award's inaugural year
(Photo Credit: impawards.com)

The Jutra Awards (La Soirée des Jutras) just turned 17. They aired on the 15th of March, from the Monument-National in the Quartier des Spectacles. The awards are not hugely popular, but the promise of prodige Montréalais Xavier Dolan in competition with--wait for it--himself surely drove viewership from all over Québec. The Jutras, after all, our film award: the highest honor our small but formidable film industry has to congratulate the talents through which it is sustained. Sadly, despite the fact that Québec Cinema has risen on the international scene, its Jutras have not, by association, gained in any measure of global status.

Televised since 2004, the Jutra broadcast appears on Radio-Canada and, in the grand tradition of awards televised, surrounds itself with all kinds of hoopla. (There's even a tapis rouge.) The toast of the Québecois film industry gather in a glitzy auditorium and sit in attendance as the Jutra categories, which range from Best Actress in a Leading Role to Best Animated Film, are ceremonially presented.
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(Photo Credit: fr.wikipedia.org)

Fortunately, the actual bestowal of awards--which last year included a heartfelt homage by Patrick Huard and Ted Kotcheff to the great actor-director Micheline Lanctôt--is mostly a tasteful proceeding.

The Jutra is balloted traditionally, with categories elected and winners determined by a voting body consisting of Québec's professional film associates. The craft and design of the statuette, a curio that plays tricks with the eye, is credited to the late Charles Daudelin, who was a pioneer of contemporary Québecois sculpture. Named for Claude Jutra, a legendary filmmaker in the annals of this province, the Jutra emerged in enough time to herald the beginnings of a Québec Cinema composed of creative contributors completely "secure in their québécité." Inaugurated in 1999, it took the place of the now defunct Prix Guy-L'Écuyer (f. 1987).

In the grand scheme of (award) things, the Jutras are a rather peripheral affair. However, given the circumstances, that is no surprise. The U.S.'s Academy Award ceremony, being the world's first national film award and the progenitor of the nicknaming tradition that led to the moniker Oscar, has claimed something of a normative title--consigning to "otherhood" every other nation's top film award in its wake. In the English language, and possibly others, any mention of, for instance, France's César Awards, or Denmark's Robert Awards, or the United Kingdom's BAFTA Awards will inevitably lead to Americanocentric analogies like "the French Academy Awards," "Denmark's answer to the Academy Awards" and "the Oscars of England." The Jutras, in actuality a provincial film award, have not escaped this tendency. In one particularly unflattering case of analogizing, the Jutras were tagged as "Québec's Very Own Oscars." (Phrasing that evokes a whole word of Little Brother desperation.) The adoring public, by contrast, has conferred upon Oscar a colloquial verb form (e.g. "Meryl Streep has thrice been Oscared"), which is like the pop cultural version of a doctoral honorific. How can little old Québec and its Jutra even begin to compete?

Well, we can't--not with the most influential film industry in the world, or with its pervasively influential award--but given the air space, and the wings, the Jutra could surely ascend. Distinct though it is, Jutra manifests a lineage to Oscar in a few salient ways, not the least of which is the tendency to favor certain name artists (prompting the coinage "auto-nomination," or "auto-nom" for short), and pay a mite too much attention to gown and glitterati. As it stands, the Jutras haven't even succeeded in riding upon the coattails of the countrywide annual film award--the Canadian Screen Awards, formerly the Genies--that would sooner, and ultimately does, overshadow them. Seeing as the Québec film industry has for decades been the country's dominant filmmaking power, this just doesn't seem right.

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Denis Villeneuve, three-time Jutra winner as Best Director (Photo Credit: moviezine.se)

In their corner, those in charge of organization and broadcast do the award no favors by airing it many weeks after Oscar night, which is thought to be the point of culmination in a months-long "award season"--after which nobody cares. Conversely, difficult to disregard is the contemptible plea for validation that was introduced into last year's ceremony. Enlisted to eulogize the Québecois filmmakers--namely Ken Scott, François Girard, Jean-Marc Vallée and Denis Villeneuve--with which they've worked, foreign stars like Vanessa Paradis and Vince Vaughn delivered offhand, half-hearted speeches on low-definition video recordings that were played back mid-ceremony. 'Twas abasement of the highest order.

Jutra needs help. It needs something to lead it out of obscurity and into the light, and do so in a dignified manner. Imagine the exposure distinguished local talent would get. Hopefully, the light of Montréalités will suffice for now.


References

1. "Canadian Screen Awards," Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 4th March 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Screen_Awards>
2. "Historique de la Soirée des Jutra." Les Jutras. Québec Cinéma, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.
3. "Jutra Award," Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 20th February 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jutra_Award>
4. Kelly, Brendan. "Xavier Dolan Leads the Jutra Nominations." Montreal Gazette. Postmedia Network Inc., 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.
5. Ochman, Josiane. "A Short History of the Jutra: Quebec's Very Own Oscars." It's Just Movies. It's Just Movies, 6 Apr. 2010. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.

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