- TORONTO (AP)
Cord Jefferson’s “American Fiction,” a biting satire starring Jeffrey Wright as a disillusioned academic, has won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, a much-watched bellwether in the Oscar race.
“American Fiction” is the directorial debut of Jefferson, the veteran TV writer of “Watchmen” and “Succession,” and an adaptation of Percival Everett’s 2001 novel “Erasure.” The film, about an author who resents that the literary industry is only interested in “Black books” that cater to the stereotypes of white audiences, emerged as a breakout hit at TIFF.
Toronto’s audience award winner, voted on by festival attendees, has historically nearly always signified a best-picture contender at the Academy Awards. Since 2012, every People’s Choice winner at TIFF has gone on to score a best-picture nod. In 2018, when “Green Book” won, it announced the film as a surprise awards contender. (Peter Farrelly’s film went on to win best picture at the Oscars.) Last year, Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” won Toronto’s top prize.
First runner-up for this year’s People’s Choice Award went to Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” starring Paul Giamatti as a curmudgeonly boarding school teacher tasked with staying with a handful of students over Christmas break in the 1970s. Second runner-up was Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron,” the long-awaited latest Studio Ghibli film from the Japanese anime master.
“American Fiction,” which MGM will release in theaters Nov. 3, co-stars Sterling K. Brown, Issa Rae and Tracee Ellis Ross. In an interview, Jefferson said he immediately connected with Everett’s book.
“I was having the exact same conversations with Black colleagues in both professions: Why are we always writing about misery and trauma and violence and pain inflicted on Blacks?” said Jefferson. “Why is this what people expect from us? Why is this the only thing we have to offer to culture?”
The Toronto International Film Festival, which wraps Sunday, was diminished this year due to the ongoing actors and writers strikes. Red-carpet premieres were mostly without movie stars, detracting from some of the buzz that the largest film festival in North American typically generates. It followed a similarly strike-affected Venice Film Festival, where the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion, went to Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things.” (That film skipped TIFF.)
The People’s Choice winner for documentary went to Robert McCallum’s “Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe” and the midnight madness award went to Larry Charles’ “Dicks: The Musical.” The festival’s juried competition awards were given to Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s “Dear Jassi,” winner of the Platform section, and Meredith Hama-Brown’s “Seagrass,” which took the FIPRESCI award from international critics.
Here’s a full rundown of Toronto fest award recipients:
SHORT CUTS AWARDS
Short Cuts Awards are for Best Film, Best Canadian Film, and the Share Her Journey Award for best film by a woman. Each winning film will receive a bursary of $10,000 CAD. The winners of the three awards are:
Short Cuts Award for Best Film: Electra, dir. Daria Kashcheeva
Jury’s statement: “Singular and accomplished, this sickly sweet nightmare of a film packs a mighty final punch. Visceral and infinitely textured, it leads us down a contorted rabbit hole with thematic and visual prowess. With great pleasure, the jury presents the Short Cuts Award for Best Short Film to Electra, directed by Daria Kashcheeva. Electra resonates with under-the-skin discomfort long after the film is over.”
Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Film: Motherland, dir. Jasmin Mozaffari
Jury’s statement: “Displaying great mastery of craft, this incredibly ambitious film excels in its direction, performances, sound, and picture, with every frame exhibiting love and intention. The jury is pleased to present the Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Short Film to Motherland directed by Jasmin Mozaffari. The film left us with one word collectively: wow.”
Share Her Journey Award: Shé (Snake), dir. Renee Zhan
Jury’s statement: “For this film’s incredibly original and surreal creativity, which is matched with beautiful acting, the jury is thrilled to give the Short Cuts Share Her Journey Award to Renee Zhan for Shé (Snake). It’s not common to be bewitched by grotesque creatures in a film, but here they captured the hearts of the audience thanks to their humour and charm.”
Honorable Mention: Gaby’s Hills, dir. Zoé Pelchat
Jury’s statement: “Featuring an ensemble cast with incredible organic chemistry, Gaby’s Hills delivered a moving portrayal of a girl in puberty returning home to find her womanhood reflected back to her in the community. Carefully crafted with layered themes, the jury is delighted to present an honourable mention for the Short Cuts Share Her Journey Award to Gaby’s Hills, directed by Zoé Pelchat.”
The 2023 jurors for the Short Cuts Awards are Aisha Jamal, Araya Mengesha, and Shasha Nakhai.
The 2023 NETPAC jury members include: Sung Moon, Haolun Shu, and Lalita Krishna.
TIFF is delighted to announce that the 2023 NETPAC Jury has selected Jayant Digambar Somalkar’s A Match as this year’s NETPAC winner.
The 2023 NETPAC jury released the following statement: “First, the jury would like to express how impressed they were by the strong films in this category, which covered a range of social issues using diverse artistic styles. The jury gives an honourable mention to Mimang, where director Kim Taeyang created a lyrical tale through visuals of a changing city that perfectly captured the longing of its protagonists. The NETPAC award was instituted to promote Asian cinema and to bring international attention to independent and non-mainstream films focusing on the discovery of new talent. The jury commends the courage of this year’s winner, a first time feature director, for taking a risk and delivering a story that is enlightening and entertaining. The director worked with a cast of non-actors that not only resulted in a stellar performance, but achieved a level of authenticity needed to drive home the social message. An immersive portrayal of life in an Indian village, highlighting its oppressive patriarchal customs, the NETPAC award this year goes to A Match by Jayant Digambar Somalkar.”
The 2023 FIPRESCI jury members include: Cem Altinsaray, Elijah Baron, Jindřiška Bláhová, Diego Faraone,
and Jenni Zylka.
The jury is delighted to announce Seagrass, dir. Meredith Hama-Brown, as this year’s FIPRESCI winner.
The 2023 FIPRESCI jury released the following statement: “A married couple in crisis seems willing to give what is usually the last resource to save its bond: couples therapy, while they’re having a vacation at the Pacific coast together with their two daughters. Their contact with other couples is an inevitable temptation and a fire test. Meanwhile, their daughters confront the world, their fears, puberty — and the ghosts of unresolved conflicts of their parents. This intimate, endearing, and wonderfully framed first feature film by young Canadian actor and director Meredith Hama-Brown skillfully deals with subjects like masculinity, family taboos, motherhood, and structural anti-Asian racism. Hama-Brown carefully stages her convincing actors, especially the young ones, and even gives life to a tender relationship between a little girl and a ball. We are happy to honour the film Seagrass with the International Critics Prize (FIPRESCI Prize) at TIFF 2023.”
AMPLIFY VOICES AWARDS PRESENTED BY CANADA GOOSE
The Amplify Voices Awards recognize under-represented filmmakers in Canada. Feature films in Official Selection by Canadian BIPOC filmmakers are eligible for the Best Feature and Best First Feature Award. The Amplify Voices Award will also celebrate a Canadian BIPOC trailblazer, recognizing a producer who has made significant contributions to the Canadian film landscape. The three winners will receive a cash prize of $10,000 each, made possible by Canada Goose.
The three Amplify Voices Awards presented by Canada Goose winners are:
Amplify Voices Award - Best BIPOC Canadian Feature: Kanaval, dir. Henri Pardo
Jury’s statement: “There has never been a Canadian film that captures both magical realism and post-colonial trauma in such a beautiful, poetic, and convincing way. Seamless in the way the story has been weaved together, this film refuses to follow a linear storyline, understanding intimately how the past and future always exist in the present, and lifting centuries-old legacies into the cinema. Centered around the powerful and awe-inducing performance of newcomer Rayan Dieudonné, this film is an honest ode to the immigrant experience. The jury celebrates Kanaval and the singular cinematic talent of Henri Pardo.”
Amplify Voices Award for Best BIPOC Canadian First Feature Award: Tautuktavuk (What We See), dirs. Carol Kunnuk, Lucy Tulugarjuk
Jury’s statement: “Through powerful self-representation, this story honours rituals that have been and rituals that are made anew, reflecting a rare purity in its filmmaking approach. The makers of this film powerfully capture truth in its most unadorned form, turning the camera inward to both look at and listen to themselves and their community, placing trust in and honouring the authenticity of their voices. The jury celebrates the co-directors of Tautuktavuk, Carol Kunnuk and Lucy Tulugarjuk, for their work in powerfully navigating difficult and necessary conversations from a place of unapologetic ownership and unwavering communal care.”
The 2023 jurors for the Amplify Voices Awards presented by Canada Goose are V.T. Nayani, Nisha Pahuja, and Ricardo Acosta.
The Amplify Voices Award also celebrates a Canadian BIPOC Trailblazer, recognizing a producer who has made significant contributions to the Canadian film landscape.
The 2023 Amplify Voices Trailblazer Award was presented to Damon D’Oliveira, producer.
Damon is a veteran producer responsible for bringing to screen some of Canada’s most critically and commercially successful films and television (Brother, Rude, The Grizzlies, The Book of Negroes, and Wildhood). An early champion of diversity, equity, and inclusion both in front and behind the camera, Damon’s career has focused on producing content that centered underrepresented, racialized, and 2SLGBTQ+ voices. His latest film, Brother, directed by Clement Virgo, had its World Premiere at TIFF 2022 to strong critical acclaim and has been invited to a number of additional festivals including the Busan Film Festival, Sao Paulo Film Festival, and in Competition at the BFI London, Gothenburg, and Tromsø Film Festivals.
BEST CANADIAN FEATURE FILM AWARD
The 2023 Best Canadian Feature jury members include: V.T. Nayani, Susan Maggi, and Ricardo Acosta. The 2023 Jury has selected Solo, dir. Sophie Dupuis as this year’s Best Canadian Feature Film.
Jury’s statement: “Sophie Dupuis’s Solo is a specifically intimate and deeply affecting film, full of palpable care and honesty. Whatever your entry point to this film, there is a place for you as part of a larger story and conversation, which is more critical than ever. This coming-of-age narrative is ultimately a film about family, both blood and chosen, and the complications and beauties of both. And it is a story of love, in all of its iterations, of how it can both fail us and set us free.”
BEST CANADIAN FEATURE FILM AWARD HONORABLE MENTION: Kanaval, dir. Henri Pardo
Jury’s statement: “There has never been a Canadian film that captures both magical realism and post-colonial trauma through the singular lens of a young child, in such a beautiful, poetic, and convincing way. The jury is pleased to award an Honorable Mention to Henri Pardo’s Kanaval.”
The Changemaker Award is presented to a Festival film that explores issues relevant to young people and is focused on themes of social change and youth empowerment. The award embraces the power in young people seeing their communities represented on screen and celebrates the next generation of storytellers and changemakers in cinema. The winning film comes with a $10,000 CAD prize, and is selected by TIFF’s Next Wave Committee, a group of young film lovers who recognize cinema’s power to transform the world.
The 2023 jurors for the Changemaker Award are members of TIFF’s Next Wave Committee: Maggie Kane, Linc Guo, Serena Hao, Roni Harel Haber, Ray Wu, Naiya Forrester, Maya Al-Arami, Sara Rana, Daniel Leplae, Tara Sidhu, Tafadzwa Mangwiro, and Elizabeth Albrecht.
The 2023 Changemaker Award is presented to We Grown Now, dir. Minhal Baig.
Minhal Baig offered this statement: “Thank you so much to the Next Wave Committee in recognizing We Grown Now for the Changemaker Award. When I first began interviewing former Cabrini-Green residents years ago, I was deeply moved and surprised by the experiences they shared with me. They spoke both of the challenges and joys of life in a public housing project. It was essential in making the film that we embrace that reality and present the high rises through the lens of children who called it home. Though the high rises have long since been demolished, Cabrini-Green remains an indelible part of the history of Chicago and public housing in America, and I hope the film sparks meaningful cultural conversation. I am beyond honoured that the Next Wave Committee has recognized the film and the importance of its social issues.”
TIFF’s Next Wave Committee provided this statement: “We Grown Now offers a compelling depiction of family and friendship within the backdrop of Chicago’s public housing project, Cabrini-Green. Frequently shadowed by the stereotypes of drugs, violence, and crime, this film strives to break the mold. Minhal dedicated a significant amount of time to connect with former residents of the now-demolished homes to learn their stories. The result is a profound and significant story of boyhood innocence and hope, and the struggle two young friends face as they grapple with the possibility of saying goodbye to each other. We were able to connect with this film because we saw friends and family in it, the struggles they face everyday, and the parts of their lives we may never personally know. We believe in the self-discovery and power that comes from seeing your community represented in film. We know how dedicated Minhal is to tell stories that matter and that mean something to those they are about, and we hope that this award will aid her in her journey forward.”
The Platform Award is an award of $20,000 CAD given to the best film in the programme, selected by an in-person international jury. This year’s jury members are: Barry Jenkins, Nadine Labaki, and Anthony Shim.
The 2023 Platform Award is awarded to: Dear Jassi, dir. Tarsem Singh Dhandwar.
The Platform Jury released this statement: “Dear Jassi was a unanimous choice for this year’s Platform Award for its honest and poignant portrayal of a subject matter that still affects large portions of individuals forced to live under the inhumanity of bitter caste systems throughout the globe. The film has the perfect blend of craft, purpose, and faith in its audience, creating a world that is both richly cinematic and steadfastly realistic. The young leads, Yugam Sood and Pavia Sidhu, are by turns breathtaking and, in performances that pull no punches, heartbreaking. Altogether an emphatic work by director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar and his many wonderful collaborators; a film that would be worthy of accolades in any section and which we enthusiastically welcome into the pantheon of winners in this Platform section.”
PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD
For the 47th year, the People’s Choice Awards distinguish the audience’s top title at the Festival as voted by the viewing public. All films in TIFF’s Official Selection were eligible.
- The TIFF 2023 People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award winner is Dicks: The Musical dir. Larry Charles.
- The first runner-up is Kill dir. Nikhil Nagesh Bhat.
- The second runner-up is Hell of a Summer dirs. Finn Wolfhard, Billy Bryk.
- The TIFF 2023 People’s Choice Documentary Award winner is Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe dir. Robert McCallum.
- The first runner-up is Summer Qamp dir. Jen Markowitz.
- The second runner-up is Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa dir. Lucy Walker.
- The TIFF 2023 People’s Choice Award winner is: American Fiction dir. Cord Jefferson.
- The first runner-up is The Holdovers dir. Alexander Payne.
- The second runner-up is The Boy and the Heron dir. Hayao Miyazaki.