By Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 19, 2009 at 5:38AM
Lee Daniels' "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" has taken top honors at the Toronto International Film Festival, becoming the first film in history to win audience awards at both Toronto and Sundance.
Daniels was not able to attend the ceremony, but sent his regards. "I wish I could be there to accept this award on behalf of the film, but I just landed in San Sebastian, Spain, and I'm on my way to the film's premiere here in just a few hours," Daniels said in his absence. "Though I cannot begin to express my gratitude, as the audience award holds such a special meaning. I made this film for every person out there who ever looked in the mirror, and felt unsure about the person looking back at them. This is not an art film for a select few. This is a movie for everyone that can relate to. This film is for all precious girls, and for everyone who has a little precious on the inside."
"Precious," which stars Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton and Mariah Carey, was acquired by Lions Gate shortly after its Sundance premiere, and was a big hit in Toronto. Executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry on hand to present the movie at the festival, creating a significant frenzy with the locals. It will next screen at the upcoming New York Film Festival before opening in theaters this November, and its Toronto win only further cements its status as force to be reckoned with come Oscar season. Previous winners of Toronto's top honor include "American Beauty," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," 'Hotel Rwanda," and last year's "Slumdog Millionaire" (at the ceremony, TIFF CEO Piers Handling erroneously included "Crash" amongst this list as well, which is not the case).
Toronto also announced two inaugural people's choice awards specifically for documentaries and films screening in their genre-fueled "Midnight Madness" section.
Leanne Pooley's "The Topp Twins" - which follows New Zealand's finest lesbian country and western singer, won in the documentary category, taking honors over a much more high-profile runner-up, Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story."
"I can't tell you how thrilled I was to bring this movie here," Pooley said at the ceremony. "This is so special. I've been making documentaries for like twenty years. And usually they're dark, and that is often the world that a documentary filmmaker moves in. But this is a film about joy and laughter and love. It's just so special to be able to bring a film like that to audiences like yours. More than anything, I need to thank The Topp Twins, who are a force of nature and I'm actually slightly frightened about what might happen if tell them we've won this award."
"The Topp Twins" has yet to find to North American distribution (as Pooley coyly noted in her acceptance speech while giving a shout out to the film's sales agent).
Sean Byrne's prom-set horror film "The Loved Ones" won the people's choice award for Midnight Madness, beating out runner-up "Daybreaker," directed by Peter and Michael Spierig.
"I just received the best wake up call of my life," Byrne said via an e-mail to Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes. "I'm still pinching myself. The Midnight Madness audience is the most educated, passionate and hardcore horror audience I've ever encountered which makes receiving this award such an especially great honor."
Juried winners included Ruba Nadda's "Cairo Time" for best Canadian feature and Alexandre Franchi's "The Wild Hunt" for best Canadian first feature, while the FIPRESCI International Critics prizes went to Bruno Dumont's "Hadewijch" for the Special Presentations section and Laxmikant Shetgoankar's "The Man Beyond The Bridge" in the Discovery section (Shetgoankar's absence provided one of the ceremony's greatest comic reliefs when it was announced he had decided to spend in the weekend in nearby Niagara Falls instead of waiting nearby to see if he had won).
The complete list of winners at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival:
Cadillac People's Choice Award:
"Precious" Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" directed by Lee Daniels
First Runner up: "Mao's Last Dancer" directed by Bruce Beresford
Second Runner up: "Micmacs" directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cadillac People's Choice Award For Documentary:
"Topp Twins" directed by Leanne Pooley
Runner up: "Capitalism: A Love Story" directed by Michael Moore
Cadillac People's Choice Award For Midnight Madness:
"The Loved Ones" directed by Sean Byrne
Runner up: "Day Breakers" directed by Peter and Michael Spierig
City of Toronto and Astral Media’s The Movie Network Award Award For Best Canadian Feature Film:
"Cairo Time" directed by Ruba Nadda
SKYY Vodka Award For Best Canadian First Feature Film:
"The Wild Hunt" directed by Alexandre Franchi
Prizes of the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) for Special Presentations Section:
"Hadewijch" directed by Bruno Dumont
Prizes of the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) for Discovery Section:
"The Man Beyond the Bridge" directed by Laxmikant Shetgoankar
Award For Best Canadian Short Film:
"Danse Macabre" directed by Pedro Pires
Honorable mention: "Armoire" directed by Jamie Travis