Canadian talent looms large at the Oscars this year, with the acclaimed shot-in-Canada co-productions “Brooklyn” and “Room” both going up against high-profile giants in the best picture battle.
The one-two punch marks a rare achievement for homegrown features. The last time a Canadian co-production competed for best film was 1982, when Louis Malle’s “Atlantic City,” a partnership with France, lost to “Chariots of Fire.”
“Brooklyn” and “Room” face stiff competition — this year’s race is dominated by big-budget, star-packed titles including “The Big Short,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant” and “Spotlight.”
Irish-Canadian writer Emma Donoghue picked up a best adapted screenplay nomination for “Room,” based on her award-winning novel of the same name about a young boy held captive in a shed with his mother.
Filmed in Toronto, “Room” was a Canada-Ireland co-production that pooled creative, technical and financial resources.
“A lot of people in those two countries are thrilled to see this Canadian-Irish co-production manage to be up there in the big leagues with huge studio pictures,” Donoghue said from Nice, France.
“It’s just wonderful to see a fairly low-budget film, made mostly with state money, can do so well.”
The period romance “Brooklyn,” a Canada-U.K.-Ireland co-production largely shot in Montreal, stars Saoirse Ronan as a young Irish woman torn between two countries and two men.
Co-producer Pierre Even said he’s thrilled to see Canadian talent compete head-to-head with bigger features, touting a cast and crew peppered with Montreal talent, including actresses Jessica Pare and Emily Bett Rickards.
“With successes like ‘Room’ and ‘Brooklyn’ it brings back a lot of marketability for Canadian films and Canadian crews and Canadian industry,” Even said from Montreal.
U.K.-based producers Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey are listed as the filmmakers who would get a trophy if “Brooklyn” wins.
But Even said that doesn’t take away from the achievements of Canadian artists.
“It’s important that Telefilm continues to support these types of projects,” he said.
“It will help us as producers and creators to get more jobs and to do more business in the future.”
Telefilm, the Crown corporation in charge of promoting and developing the Canadian film industry, said it provided $4,518,881 to “Room” for production and marketing efforts, while “Brooklyn” got $3,227,904.
“We know that co-production is something that, when it’s done right, works amazingly well and I think these are two success stories that we should be very proud of,” Telefilm executive director Carolle Brabant said from Toronto.
“Room” producer David Gross said co-productions are a necessity these days.
“The films have gotten too expensive, there’s not enough money here to really just exist inside of Canada so it’s forced producers to take a more global outlook,” he said from Toronto, adding that partnerships also open a film up to foreign markets.
“Spotlight,” meanwhile, has its own share of Cancon thanks to the involvement of Toronto-born executive producer Michael Bederman, who was instrumental in getting much of the interior newsroom and courthouse scenes shot in Toronto and Hamilton.
“The Revenant” boasts strong Canadian ties, too, with much of the film having been shot in Alberta and British Columbia. It features a heavy contingent of local background performers and technical talent, several of whom earned nominations in categories including sound mixing, visual effects, production design, and makeup and hairstyling.
Bederman said he spent the morning texting “Spotlight” writer/director Tom McCarthy, writer Josh Singer and Canadian actress Rachel McAdams, who scored a best supporting actress nomination.
Although the story is set in Boston, the Toronto-born filmmaker touted the many Canadian connections to the film.
“Ninety-five per cent of our crew are Toronto locals and they were fantastic,” Bederman said from New York, where he now lives.
“There does seem to be a unique Canadian perspective that filmmakers have and creative people have that seems to fit in very well with American sensibilities.”
This year’s Academy Awards show, to be hosted by Chris Rock, is on Feb. 28.