Sarah and Richard and Robin and Sandra

Attended a brunch yesterday honouring Sarah Polley‘s much feted film, Away From Her, which is up for seven Genie awards tonight after failing to win either of its two Oscar nominations. Hosted by Hussein Amarshi of Mongrel Media, the movie’s Canadian distributor, it was a lavish affair held at Toronto’s venerable Windsor Arms hotel. While confessing all the attention was getting a “ridiculous,” the ever-gracious Polley was effusive with gratitude. She stressed that her $4.5 million film could never have have been made without public money. Had it been financed by the private sector, as a first-time filmmaker she says she never would have been able to withstand the “cacophany of voices drowing me out.”

The weirdest moment of the brunch came when Richard Stursberg, the CBC’s head of English-language programming, delivered a satirical speech poking fun at Bill C-10, the legislation that would allow the feds to confiscate tax credits from films and TV shows they deem “offensive.” Stursberg read a mock letter to Sarah Polley by a federal official chiding her for “disabilism”—offending those with disabilities. “Disabilism occurs when characters with disabilities are portrayed as diminished or reduced by their disabilities,” he read, explaining that in Away from Her, “the lead female character’s Alzheimer’s condition is shown to dimninish her cognitive abilities so that she doesn’t remember her husband of many years and ends up in a quite inappropriate relationship with another man.” The mock letter went on to suggest Polley recut her movie “to show the benefits personal and social of the Alzheimer’s experience.”

The was scattered, confused laughter. There was no small irony in seeing Stursberg speak at this event, nevermind watching him try to be Rick Mercer. When Stursberg was in charge of Telefilm Canada, he made a lot of enemies in the film community, including a lot of those in the room with him yesterday—filmmakers who were appalled by his attempt shift Telefilm toward commercial genre pictures and away from auteur fare (like Away From Her). One of his harshest critics at the time was, in fact, Sarah Polley, whose first attempt to write and direct a feature film was quashed by Telefilm after an agonizing development process.

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Much disappointment about Away From Her star Julie Christie not winning the Oscar after being touted as the favorite. But one of the film’s producers, Daniel Iron, said that by the day of the Oscars, the buzz for winner Marion Cotillard was overwhelming. Iron said Cotillard had been on a relentless one-month stump campaign, whereas Christie just breezed in and out. The Oscars are won with campaigns, not unlike the primaries.Also talked to a tanned Gordon Pinsent, who couldn’t get a ticket to the Oscars, although almost everyone else associated with the film seemed to have got one. He watched the ceremony from home in Toronto. Pinsent said he was invited to all the parties, but didn’t want to go to Los Angeles “and end trying to watch the Oscars peering over people’s heads.”

Other celebs at the brunch included Grey’s Anatomy star Sandra Oh, who is hosting tonight’s Genies. As she filled her plate with greens and seafood, she told me she was exhausted and famished. She said she was grateful for the Writer’s strike because it gave her a break. Meanwhile the Sideways star dying to do another film. And, as for her Genie hosting duties, she vowed not to attempt comedy. We’ll see about that.

Among other celebs at the event, Robin Williams ambled by. He’s shooting a movie in town and showed up at the Windsor Arms lobby where he patiently chatted to anyone who came up to him. I resisted the temptation. Then he made a beeline for Sarah Polley and expressed his love for her film.

“I thought it was amazing,” he told Canadian Press. “It’s a very painful but also a very delicate and, in a weird way, a very romantic story about Alzheimer’s. It was extraordinary.”

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