Leo Awards: Celebrating Excellence in British Columbia Film & Television since 1999 at Hyatt Regency, Celebration Awards Two, June 2 and Gala Awards, June 3 (leoawards.com).
They’d won something . . . hadn’t they?
Walter Daroshin figured they must’ve. If they hadn’t won some kind of award, what was he doing dressed to the nines at the Hotel Vancouver, graciously accepting plaudits for bringing such a sensitive historical melodrama to the screen?
Daroshin was one of the producers of The War Between Us, a 1995 made-for-TV movie about friendship amid Canada’s internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. The movie’s reception took Daroshin to film festivals in Monte Carlo, Cannes, New York, and then it won best motion picture at the Leo Awards – kind of.
“It was all wonderful,” Daroshin says. “The very next day we discovered that there really was no such thing as the Leo Awards. It was all a figment of our imagination. . . . They referred to themselves as the Leo Awards, but again, that’s just like me referring to you as Bob.”
There was a show but no awards.
It was a bit like a card counter breaking the bank at a casino and being told: “We don’t play for real money here.”
As he prepares for the 20th annual Leo Awards, Daroshin still remembers rifling through the evening’s program in that first year and seeing the Leo award: a glass lion that recalled the sculptures of Rene Lalique.
“We thought we were going to get one of those,” he laughs. “We didn’t get anything!”
But after he realized the award show cosplay he’d navigated was just a party paid by credit, Daroshin realized something else: if the Leo Awards weren’t real, they ought to be.
It was the late-1990s and there were signs Vancouver’s film industry might be more than a weak Canadian dollar and a convincing American accent. “The industry was just maturing to the point where we felt we could actually sustain it,” Daroshin says.
Personally, he was also wondering if he might prefer to work alongside the film and television industry rather than in it, as finding time for his three young children amid 18-hour workdays was becoming an impossibility.
A company was incorporated. Copyrights were filed. Accountants accounted and lawyers lawyered. By 1999 they were ready to launch Leo Awards 2.0.
“Somebody needed to just take it and really hold it,” Daroshin says.
In at least one respect, Daroshin was a peculiar choice to hold that position.
“To be quite honest with you, the idea of judging art is absolutely ridiculous to me,” he says over sips of his latte.
He has an aversion to ranking art. After all, you can’t exactly chuck The Persistence of Memory and Aristotle With a Bust of Homer on a scale to find out if Salvador Dali outweighs Rembrandt.
But the awards serve a larger function, Daroshin explains. Much like the cultural communities of Vancouver don’t often come together outside of a Canucks playoff run (which means they really don’t often come together) the film and television industry similarly find themselves sequestered in factions. TV producers, movie directors, comedians, dramatists, and animators often don’t know each other.
“If nothing else, (the Leos are) an excuse for all of these disparate groups to come together, be in one room and share in this ideal of community,” he says. “We are – in a strange way – one. Even though we’re not.”
And getting everyone in the same place can have practical benefits, Daroshin says. Writer Dennis Foon is nominated for a 2018 Leo for his adaptation of Richard Wagamese’s novel Indian Horse. Foon met the producers of Indian Horse when he was at the 2016 Leo Awards, Daroshin says.
The Sunday gala always starts with an eye to the future with the presentation of the student production award.
“We want those young people in the room,” Daroshin says. “All the actors, all the red carpet, the orchestra; we want them to experience that.”
The awards show is also an artistic reprieve from the other 363 days of the year that emphasize the film industry as a manufacturing concern, he says. For two days a year, Daroshin wants people to look at the industry differently.
“Forget how much money it makes or how (many) tax dollars it generates,” he says. “This is actually really good stuff.”
And with that, Daroshin is certain they’ve won something.