Beating out better known artists like Daniel Caesar and Jessie Reyez, Belle Game’s “Low” director Kevan Funk humbly admitted he was “genuinely super surprised” to take home the 2019 Prism Prize’s top award for best Canadian music video Monday night in Toronto.
The NSFW video juxtaposes the factory line assembly of sex dolls with real people getting plastic surgery and simulating sexual intercourse for virtual reality. At the event hosted by comedian Dino Archie, “Low” and the rest of the award’s 10 short-listed videos were screened in batches for the audience at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with awards handed out in between. The grand prize came with a 15,000 Canadian dollar prize.
Watch Belle Game’s “Low” video here (warning: NSFW):
“This video is an idea I wanted to make for five years. And I think things like Prism Prize are the only reason I eventually got to make this film because it created a niche for weird ideas that just stick in the back of your brain,” said Funk. “I am super super grateful that this exists. It helps remind us that music videos can be more than just counts on YouTube.”
“I’m honestly exhausted and confused right now,” he said to laughter. “We made this film with literally four of us running around L.A. and it was really weird and really fun and I’m really proud of the work that we made. To the Belle Game and all the musicians I’ve been able to collaborate with — I’m sure every other directors here feels the same — there’s something remarkably special about having that opportunity to bring that work to life.”
The night was kicked off with an address by Beth Janson, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television (The Canadian Academy), which now produces the Prism Prize, and she admitted she first learned of this “little side gig” created by her colleague at the Academy, vp programming Louis Calabro, on his downtime and was “astonished.”
“Louis saw a need that was not being met and he went ahead and built this,” Janson said. “That need is to go beyond the face of the music, the musicians, and recognize the visionaries behind the intense artistry of the music video form. That is the director.”
Calabro reflected on “seven years of showcasing the next wave of filmmaking talent and introducing the world to new exciting Canadian voices.”
The voices for this year, previously announced, and vying for the designation of best Canadian video, were Belle Game – “Low” (director: Kevan Funk); Blue Hawaii – “Do You Need Me” (director: Kevan Funk); Cadence Weapon – “High Rise” (director: Lester Millado); Charlotte Cardin – “The Kids” (director: Kristof Brandl); Clairmont The Second – “Gheeze” (director: Clairmont The Second); Classified – “Powerless” (director: Andrew Hines); Daniel Caesar ft. H.E.R. – “Best Part, a Visual” (directors: Keavan Yazdani & Sean Brown); Harrison ft. Ralph – “Your Girl” (directors: Ft. Langley); Jessie Reyez – “Body Count” (director: Peter Huang); and Said The Whale – “UnAmerican” (director: Johnny Jansen).
Jurors watched more than 300 videos throughout the year, roughly half of which were suggested by Prism and sent in batches of 30. The jurors then submitted their five favorite picks to determine the top 20, which was trimmed down to the Prism Prize Top 10. From there, jurors vote for their favorite three videos to determine the grand prize winner, giving consideration to originality, style, innovation and an effective executive. Popularity, sales, view counts and affiliations, such as label and management, are not part of the process.
The 2019 Prism Prize Audience Award was presented to director Johnny Jansen for Said The Whale’s “UnAmerican” video, based on thousands of online votes. All 20 Prism Prize long-listed videos were eligible. “I was not expecting to be up here after watching all of those incredible videos,” said Jansen. “It’s really an honor to be next to all these incredible creators.” He said the award “means the world” and thanked Said The Whale’s Tyler Bankcroft “for trusting us with such an ambitious idea,” adding it was his first time “playing around with stop motion and it was a lot more work than I thought it would be.”
After letting everyone know that this was Jansen’s first awards show, and he even bought a suit specially for the event, Bankcroft wanted to say one thing: “I feel so inspired seeing all those videos tonight. I thought that music videos were bullshit for a long time. I feel like I’m a product of 2019. I have no attention span, but I’m feeling a renewed excitement about the format. So thank you so much Prism Prize for providing me with that inspiration to go and try to even live up to some of these videos now. They’re absolutely incredible. I’ve cried and laughed tonight.”
The Hi-Fidelity Award, given to a recording artist who has used video art to represent their work in a consistently creative and innovative way, went to Clairmont The Second for exhibiting a strong visual identity through the self-directed “Gheeze” music video. “I had a lot of trials and tribulations when I come to this and I always feel like maybe people aren’t recognizing, but this is just reassurance that people are looking out for me and people appreciate what I’m doing,” he said.
Soleil Denault, who received the Lipsett Award, recognizing an innovative and unique approach to music video art, said, “I quit my job a year ago to become a director — and be poor. I really appreciate this acknowledgement.” Then, before she left the stage, added “I’m a girl. I’m a director. It’s cool.”
Atlanta-based Torontonian Lacey Duke (H.E.R. feat. Bryson Tiller; SZA, Janelle Monáe) was previously announced as the winner of the Prism Prize Special Achievement Award (presented by Slaight Music), honoring a Canadian music video artist for their artistic achievements and exceptional contribution to music video art on a world stage. She was not in attendance at the awards.
The Prism Prize is the largest cash prize in the world for music videos. Each of the 10 runner-ups receive CA$500, courtesy of Slaight Music. All the award recipients received CA$2,500 grants from William F. White for production equipment rentals and the top 10 nominees a gift bag from MAC Cosmetics.
Funk, like last year’s grand prize winners, Charlotte Day Wilson and director Fantavious Fritz — who were both on hand to present him with the best Canadian video award — said he would also like to do something with the CA$15,000 to help others in the field. Wilson and Fritz donated a portion of their winnings to the women’s shelter Sistering and set up a one-time CA$10,000 Work Film grant for women and gender non-binary filmmakers from Canada (awarded to two people: Jackie Dives and Jessamine Fok).
At the time, the decades’ long MuchFACT and BravoFACT, which funded independent music videos, had just been dissolved; financial institution RBC has since stepped up with their MVP Project. “Music videos gave me the career I have now, and I would love to be able to help someone else and help more emerging voices because I really believe in this forum,” said Funk.
Previous Prism grand prize winners are Fantavious Fritz for Charlotte Day Wilson’s “Work” (2018), Martin C. Pariseau for Kaytranada‘s “Lite Spot”s (2017), Philip Sportel for Kalle Mattson’s “Avalanche” (2016), Chad VanGaalen for Timber Timbre‘s “Beat The Drum Slowly” (2015), Emily Kai Bock for Arcade Fire‘s “Afterlife” (2014) and Noah Pink for Rich Aucoin’s “Brian Wilson is A.L.i.V.E” (2013).