sound and vision

“I don’t think I could even name a Canadian music video.”

So stated a barista at my neighbourhood coffee shop this week. A gentle reminder, not that one was needed, of how the Much have fallen.

And reason enough, me thoughts, to accept an invitation from Louis Calabro’s people to chat with the man who, when not supervising the recently held Canadian Screen Awards, has been busy preparing for Sunday’s Prism Prize gala. Well, not so much a gala, as a get-together — to celebrate outstanding achievement in the field of excellence in Canadian music videos.

The Prism Prize is Calabro’s baby. And the Toronto-based promoter, film-studies grad and DJ-about-town is keen to talk-up the awards in this, Prism’s second year.

That’s right. The distinguished prize for Canada’s best music video was first handed out in 2013. But don’t tell Calabro — or Prism partner Neil Haverty of the band Bruce Peninsula — his annual prize is 30 years behind the curve. Excellence is excellence. Still.

“A couple of years ago I was noticing the consensus seemed to be that they don’t exist anymore now that they’re not on TV,” Calabro admits of the state of the video. “But I knew they were being made and shared and passed around. And, occasionally, a music video can still reach a million people in a matter of hours. Or minutes. Plus, the production level is alive and well and creativity is alive and well. And the audience is still there.”

Indeed, music videos have never been so accessible to the fan in search of good-looking sounds. And however antiquated that 20th-Century creation may be, it can still launch the career of a Walk Off The Earth. Or a Psy.

Or Manotick‘s own Hollerado, a band well-versed in sound and vision, and one of the 10 finalists in line for Prism’s 2014 Grand Prize. Hollerado’s powerful and much-talked-about video for So It Goes will compete for the Prism (and the accompanying $5,000 in cash) with a diverse range of visual stimuli by the likes of Arcade Fire, Drake, Shad and Young Galaxy. Or, more importantly, with the directors and creative teams behind those works.

“We shouldn’t focus completely on the bands,” Calabro insists. “That’s what you tend to see at awards shows: the band goes up onstage. But that’s only part of the equation. We need to talk about the Canadian people involved in that video.”

Hence, while Arcade Fire holds two spots among the shortlisted 10, the nominees include 10 different directors. (“Really interesting bands,” Calabro opines, “tend to work with really interesting directors.”) And Prism’s rules further make it clear that this is not simply about the music. To be eligible, you’ll have to do better than recruiting an American band and crew to shoot a cool cover of a Neil Young song. This is a prize for Canadian video productions.

Big or small.

“It’s a tricky question,” Calabro says of pitting established big-money artists and producers against no-money independents. “You’re always toeing that line in terms of the politics of it. But we want to award excellence. We want to award creativity and originality. That’s why we judge the videos on five points — originality, creativity, style, innovation and execution. It they tick all of the boxes, you can’t penalize a band for being too professional or being outside of Canada too much. That’s the eternal debate. We wouldn’t want to neglect certain bigger bands, but we want a nice mix. And I think we have that this year.”

(The “we” to whom Calabro refers includes 100 or so industry professionals, including the Ottawa International Animation Festival‘s Artistic Director Chris Robinson.)

And while this year’s nominees include no French-language productions (not even this one), Prism’s desire to be inclusive is made clear by the Toronto-based operation’s bilingual website. And by that site’s inclusion of dozens of submitted videos that fell short of the shortlist but stand as a handy look back at the year in music video.

It also offers a chance to do a little trend-spotting.

“One weird thing we noticed was that last year five of the top 10 videos had weightlifting in them,” Calabro reports. “This year, if there’s a theme, it seems to be a lot of contemplating; a lot of brooding.”

I think we were all there in 2013. And, like this unending winter of our discontent, that may be a trend with staying power — even in an age when trends can develop and subside with the refreshing of a screen.

Four awards in total will be given out Sunday. Two have already been announced: directors Michael Leblanc and Scott Cudmore have been given the Arthur Lipsett Award for creativity, named after the groundbreaking NFB director; and, a Special Achievement Award will go to Floria Sigismondi, for her stunning work with everyone from David Bowie to Our Lady Peace. (OK, maybe not so much for the Our Lady Peace collaboration.) An audience-choice prize, tallied from the website and Exclaim! submissions, will also be announced. And then there’s the Grand Prize, which I like to think will go to Hollerado.

Just as I predicted A Tribe Called Red would take home the Polaris Prize last fall.

Hollerado faces some stiff competition, granted. Each of the 10 nominees — with the possible exception of Keys N Krates’ Dum Dee Dum video, which basically has a laugh at the expense of those oh-so-backwards Mennonites — is worthy of the big Prize. As was the 2013 winner: the ever-clever Rich Aucoin and company.

As for the ceremony itself, well, it’s only Year 2.

“I don’t necessarily want to call it a gala,” Calabro reminds us, “because right now in its infant years it’s more of a party.” He does, however, expect a few of the artists, directors and behind-the-scenes contributors to be onhand: “It will end up being more of a reception for those artists doing very creative things in that middle ground. That’s what this Prize is about.”

Video Hits may be dead. And Muchmusic is not at all well. But the music video lives on. And that’s something Calabro believes we should celebrate.

“We want the prize to grow,” he concludes. “We’d like to tie it to different events throughout the year. And we’d like to increase the money that goes with it.”

That, surely, is a cause behind which musicians and directors will unite.

Even the ones you can name.

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