The movie Where Do We Go Now? by Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki won the Cadillac People's Choice Award as the 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival, which wrapped Sunday.
The film, about Muslim and Christian women in a small Lebanese village who band together to try to prevent their men from going to war, won a cash prize of $15,000. Labaki, who splits her time between Beirut and Paris, received funding from Lebanon, France, Italy and Egypt.
Organizers said the filmmaker, who also stars in the movie, sent a text after learning of her win saying she was at the Frankfurt airport in Germany jumping up and down and was "very happy and ecstatic."
Where Do We Go Now? has already been designated as Lebanon's entry for best foreign film at next year's Oscars.
Previous People's Choice Award recipients have gone on to do well at the Oscars, including Slumdog Millionaire and Precious.
The 11-day festival, which ran from Sept 8-18, ended with an awards luncheon in downtown Toronto.
The film Monsieur Lazhar by Quebec director Philippe Falardeau, was named Best Canadian feature and won a $30,000 prize.
"So very rarely does a film come along that does everything perfectly," said actress Liane Balaban, who announced the Canadian winners. Balaban was part of the Canadian jury.
Falardeau's film, set in a Montreal elementary school, is described as a "beautifully crafted character study" examining loss and death, innocence, guilt and honesty. The prize comes with a $30,000 cheque.
"My first film premiered here at TIFF was 11 years ago [and won best Canadian first feature]. Who knew I'd have such a long love affair with the festival," quipped Falardeau, whose previous films include La Moitié gauche du frigo, Congorama and C’est pas moi, je le jure! "In fact, it is probably the longest relationship I've ever had."
Other honours presented at the end of the festival include:
- Best Canadian first feature film: Edwin Boyd by Toronto writer and director Nathan Morlando ($15,000). Starring Scott Speedman, the movie examines the real-life drama behind Canadian anti-hero and bank robber Edwin Boyd.
- Best Canadian short film: Doubles with Slight Pepper by Toronto's Ian Harnarine, which took a $10,000 prize.
- Cadillac People's Choice Documentary Award: Jon Shenk's The Island President, which follows the first year in office of Maldives's president Mohamed Nasheed as he lobbies around the world for environmental policy changes.
Director was a nuclear physicist
Harnarine's short about an estranged father's reunion with his son, whom he left behind in Trinidad after leaving for Canada, was sparked by the filmmaker's own life.
"I have a wonderful father but it was his descent into Alzheimer's disease that inspired the film. It was like the difference between the man I grew up with and the man that I knew later. He was a totally different person," said the beaming Harnarine, a former nuclear physicist who left his career to study filmmaking in New York City only a few years ago.
The ex-scientist dedicated his film to his father, who died before he could watch the finished film.
"I came to TIFF all these years growing up in Toronto so it means a lot to me to win this," Harnarine told CBC News. "I feel absolutely joyous, excited and relieved."
In accepting his trophy, Harnarine promised his bride-to-be that he would get cracking on wedding plans Monday as the nuptials are only six weeks away.
Maldives's president drops in on festival
In reference to the documentary winner, organizers said Maldives's president Mohamed Nasheed came to the festival for the film's premiere.
It also marked the first time the head of state saw the documentary chronicling his fight against climate change, which is causing the world's waters to rise and sinking his island country.
"I thought it was quite excellent," said Nasheed in a statement read out at the ceremony. "I hope it makes people reduce their carbon pollution and save the Maldives."
The Midnight Madness Audience Award went to Gareth Evans for The Raid while a jury of film journalists from Argentina, the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Hong Kong chose two prizes:
- International Critics Prize, Discovery Programme: to Sweden's Axel Petersen for Avalon.
- International Critics Prize, Special Presentation: The First Man by Gianni Amelio (Algeria/France/Italy).
The jury called Petersen's film an "assured, darkly humourous portrait of an affluent class in hedonistic denial" and heralded him as a "new voice" in Swedish filmmaking.
The festival opened with Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim's From The Sky Down, a portrait of U2 during the making of the rock group's watershed album, Achtung Baby.
"This TIFF was even bigger and provided $170 million in value to the city of Toronto," said Cameron Bailey, co-director of the festival.
The festival showcases new Canadian films, international titles from 65 different countries, emerging directors as well as veteran filmmakers.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted information from festival organizers about filmmaker Nadine Labaki's Canadian background.Sep 18, 2011 12:00 AM ET