There’s no bigger fan of Canadian film composer Daryl Bennett’s work than his son, Eli.
The younger Bennett has been immersed in the sounds of his father’s music since he was born – quite literally, since Eli’s very first crib in infancy shared space with his father’s music studio.
His admiration for his father’s work made it all the more unbelievable for Eli to win the 2018 Leo Award for Best Musical Score in a Feature Length Documentary. His competition in the category included – you guessed it - his own dad.
“It’s still pretty surreal,” Eli said, a week after earning the award, which was presented at the first of three awards nights for this year’s Leos.
It's the first ever father-son battle in Leo Awards history, Eli notes. This happened to be the 20th anniversary edition of the Leo Awards, and it also happened that the inaugural winner for the Best Musical Score in a Feature Length Drama some 20 years ago was Daryl Bennett himself. The fact that the Bennetts were seated at table 20 for this year’s show was just an added piece of the magic.
“It seemed like the stars aligned,” said Eli.
The Brentwood-area resident has had his father’s work as the soundtrack to his entire life. Even after he outgrew sleeping in that music studio-turned-baby-room, Eli was home schooled and so still spent his days hearing his father’s music. (Which, incidentally, is some high-quality music. The elder Bennett has been composing award-winning scores for film and TV for more than 30 years. He has four Leo Awards to his credit and has been nominated for a Gemini, a Genie and two GRAMMY Awards.)
And, of course, Daryl knew a thing or two about music. Among the many musicians’ work he introduced his son to, Eli found inspiration in the music of saxophone great Michael Brecker.
The moment he heard Brecker play, Eli said, “Something just clicked.”
Eli took up the sax and practised six, seven, even eight hours a day throughout high school and set himself on a mission: “I’m going to be a musician, and not only that, I’ve gotta be the best,” he recalls.
After high school, Eli went on to Humber College in Toronto to study jazz – and, during the course of his studies, he also took a course in film scoring. After graduation, he decided he needed to come back home and study with his own father – a throwback, he notes, to those days when it was common for children to follow in their parents’ footsteps and apprentice in the family business.
“These days that doesn’t really happen,” he says. “For me to do that with my dad is pretty special.”
Eli recalls finding film scoring coming easily to him, a fact he attributes to those very early formative days, when he was immersed in his father’s music.
“It’s like it was soaking up in my subconscious,” he says. “It was odd to me how it was easy to me. Subconsciously, I guess, this was preparing me for my life.”
He worked with his father for several years before branching out on his own a couple of years ago, continuing to work as both a performer and composer. He also wore his performer’s hat for this year’s Leo Awards, serving as its music director and leading the band for the Leos’ two gala nights at the Hyatt Regency Hotel over the weekend (June 2 and 3).
Eli is no stranger to awards himself. He’s been nominated for a Juno and for Leo Awards four previous times. This year’s win came for his score for Believe: The True Story of Real Bearded Santas, a documentary that follows the members of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, a group of men who help to perpetuate the myth and magic of Santa.
Daryl’s nomination came for his work on In the Spirit of Reconciliation, delving into the stories of residential school survivors.
When the nominations were announced on April 30, Daryl called Eli and told him they were nominated against each other.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Eli says. “After having worked together with your dad, it’s just so special to be up against him.”
That said, Eli was pretty convinced he knew the outcome. “I thought I had no chance. I thought, he’s gonna win easily.”
Even at the dinner, Eli says, he had already congratulated his dad for his win. But that moment he heard his own name – and then heard his parents cheering for him and accepting congratulations from his dad - is a moment he’ll never forget
“My dad sad, ‘I hate losing, but if there’s one person I don’t mind losing to, it’s my son,’” Eli says.
Though Eli is thrilled with the Leo Award – having what he terms the “Oscars and Emmys for Hollywood North” on your resumé is always a good thing – what really matters to him is having the chance to do all this side by side with his own father.
“Being around music my whole life has prepared me for my future career,” he says. “Literally I’ve spent my entire life in the studio, and now I’m doing what my dad does.”
For the full list of Leo Award winners, see www.leoawards.com.