TORONTO – Stage and screen legend Shirley Douglas has the CBC in her cross hairs.
The 78-year-old actress says the public broadcaster is not doing enough to build up a homegrown star system.
Douglas bemoaned the state of Canada’s entertainment industry before accepting a lifetime achievement award from the Toronto branch of Canada’s performer’s union, known as the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists.
She was escorted to the bash by her famous son Kiefer Sutherland, who also said more must be done to create a star system akin to Hollywood.
CBC personality Rick Mercer presented Douglas with the Award of Excellence in honour of a lifetime of acting and activism that included championing civil rights and public health-care.
Other winners included best actress Tatiana Maslany, who was recognized for her starring role in the indie coming-of-age feature “Picture Day,” and best actor Shawn Doyle, who co-stars in the dramatic film “The Disappeared.” Shannon Kook-Chun was named best voice performer for the animated short “Requiem for Romance.”
Before taking the stage Saturday, Douglas said something needs to change within the Canadian TV industry, starting with the CBC.
“CBC is in my line of fire,” said Douglas, best known to Canadians for playing May Bailey on the long-running CBC-TV series, “Wind at My Back.”
“I just cannot believe that that company has not recognized that they need name recognition. And I used to be told long ago that one of the reasons they didn’t is that they were afraid we would become well-known and then want more money. And I don’t know what the reason is, but even to this day there’s a poster for ‘Heartland’ with that poor woman standing there with the horse (and) miles of blue sky to write everyone’s name on. You don’t know even (know): Is it a car company? What is it?”
Douglas says the business has only gotten worse in the past 35 years she’s been working here, noting that the CBC was producing 16 series when she first returned to Canada after living in Los Angeles.
She noted that funding woes have made it hard for the broadcaster to generate more homegrown series.
“I’m terribly terribly sad and angry,” she said. “I’m just fed up that we can’t do better.”
Although he built his career in Hollywood, “24″ star Sutherland says he’s very mindful of the need to bolster Canada’s industry.
“For the first five years of my career I was working back and forth between the United States and Canada. The ‘Bay Boy’ was the first film I got to do, I would come back and do plays, do theatre here,” said Sutherland, who co-starred with his mother in a co-production of “The Glass Menagerie” with the National Arts Centre and the Royal Alexander Theatre in Toronto in 1997.
“I’ve loved coming back here to work over the course of my career.”
That includes working with Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre to mentor young actors, directors and writers.
He said initiatives like that are important “to create work for them here in Canada that will allow them to stay and create a sense of recognizability that will allow audiences, not only from Canada but from around the world, to identify those actors and identify their work in the kind of star structure that you have in the United States.”
Sutherland admits he didn’t get much advice from his mother on career direction but did say he consults her on how to approach specific roles.
“The calls she would get from me late at night would be: ‘I’ve run into a scene and I have no idea what to do with it and what do you think about that?’” said Sutherland, whose father is Donald Sutherland.
“Certainly between my mother and my father, the experience that they have in the situations that they’ve had to deal with in the course of their career, I’d be foolish not to try and learn from that.”
Douglas, who began her stage and television career in England and has tackled iconic roles in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” “Phaedra” and “The Stone Angel,” said Canadian artists need more publicity.
“We need name recognition. There isn’t a picture on a cover of a magazine in Canada by Canadians that has our people on it. And somebody has to change it unless they want everyone to leave. I’m never leaving, I’m here. Too old to be leaving anyway.”
The annual ACTRA Awards recognize outstanding performances by ACTRA Toronto members.
ACTRA Toronto is the largest organization within ACTRA, representing more than 15,000 of Canada’s 22,000 professional performers working in the English-language recorded media in Canada.