Congrats to them all!!

Toronto International Film Festival: 2011 award winners

A Lebanese director with a strong affinity for Canada — and Canadian filmmakers from Ontario and Quebec — are the big winners as the Toronto International Film Festival handed out its awards Sunday.

Baabdat-born Nadine Labaki told festival officials she suddenly started dancing like a crazy woman in the Frankfurt airport on Sunday when she found out that her latest opus, Where Do We Go Now? (Et maintenant on va ou), won the Cadillac People’s Choice Award. Labaki could not be on hand in Toronto for the awards luncheon because she was on her way home to prepare for the Monday release of her film in Lebanon. Where Do We Go Now? is a tragi-comic look at sectarian violence. It mocks people for indulging in bad behaviour and promotes universal peace among different factions in the Middle East.

The runners-up are Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation and Canadian director Ken Scott’s sardonic French-language comedy, Starbuck. It features Quebec superstar Patrick Huard as a middle-aged train wreck who suddenly discovers he has fathered 533 children. Even being third on this list is a coup for Starbuck and augers well for a wider theatrical release after the festival.

The People’s Choice Award is the festival’s most democratic prize. Toronto audiences, famous in the international film world for their good taste and enthusiasm, vote for the award after every screening. Last year, The King’s Speech won this category and went on to the Oscar as best picture. So did Slumdog Millionaire after its 2008 triumph in Toronto directly led to its theatrical release.

All three Canadian film awards are selected by juries, but that did not at all blunt the joy each of the three winners felt on Sunday. Especially since each of the three awards comes with a hefty cash bonus.

Quebec filmmaker Philippe Falardeau took the top Canadian prize when the jury unanimously chose his drama Monsieur Lazhar as winner of the City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian Feature Film. The award comes with $30,000. Falardeau has an 11-year love affair going with the Toronto filmfest, which he said has run longer than any other love relationship he has enjoyed in his life. “Now we’re talking marriage!” he joked.

One interesting twist for Monsieur Lazhar is that the film was co-produced by Luc Dery and Kim McCraw, who also produced Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies, which won the same prize at last year’s Toronto festival and then went on to an Oscar nomination and multiple other awards, including at the Genies and the Jutras.

Toronto filmmaker Nathan Morlando won the $15,000 award Skyy Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film, thanks to his sterling efforts on the crime thriller Edwin Boyd. Set in the 1940s and early 1950s, the sleek drama tells the true story of charismatic Canadian bank robber Edwin Alonzo Boyd. Scott Speedman plays the title character.

The final Canadian award went to Trinidadian-Canadian filmmaker Ian Harnarine. His 16-minute short Doubles With Slight Pepper, which Spike Lee helped him create through a student mentoring program in New York, took the $10,000 award for Best Canadian Short Film. The tiny perfect drama tells the moving story of a Trinidad mother and son who suddenly find themselves dealing with their missing husband-father when he returns to the island from Canada.

Meanwhile, Cadillac also supports People’s Choice Awards in two other specialized categories. American director Jon Shenk’s The Island President — an eco-activist film about how the president of The Maldives went on an climate change campaign during his first year in office — took the documentary award. Bess Kargman’s First Position and Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam Twenty are the runners-up.

Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans took the people’s choice award for Midnight Madness entries with his Indonesian martial arts flick The Raid. Runners-up are Adam Wingard’s You’re Next and Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America.