Toronto: Damien Chazelle's 'La La Land' Captures Audience Award

La La Land - still 3 -VFF- H 2016
Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

The win makes the movie a frontrunner for the awards season on its way to possible Oscar glory. The first runner-up was the Dev Patel-starrer 'Lion.'

Damien Chazelle's La La Land has notched a claim to Oscar frontrunner status out of the Toronto International Film Festival after picking up the Grolsch People's Choice Award on Sunday.

La La Land, which stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and bowed in Venice, was named the top audience prize-winner in Toronto, which often is a barometer of future Academy Award nominations. The People's Choice Award is voted on by TIFF attendees, either with their ticket stubs placed in a box in a theater or with an online vote.

Chazelle's follow-up to Whiplash is a Los Angeles-set musical about a couple of Hollywood strivers who fall in love. The Summit/Lionsgate release is set for a December opening.

Chazelle said Sunday in a statement that he was overwhelmed by La La Land taking TIFF's top audience award. "To make this movie was a dream come true, and to see it connect with Toronto audiences in this way is deeply gratifying," he said. "I wanted this film to speak in a way that even the most far-fetched dreams can guide us, and everything about this moment feels surreal."

Toronto ballots have traditionally aligned with Academy voting, as previous TIFF audience award winners such as 12 Years a Slave, Slumdog Millionaire and last year's Brie Larson-starrer Room rode a wave out of Toronto to Oscar glory after earning the People's Choice honor.

The first runner-up for the top audience award was the Dev Patel-starrer Lion, directed by Garth Davis and which bowed in Toronto, and the second runner-up was Mira Nair's Queen of Katwe. Chazelle's La La Land opened the Venice festival and had the coveted Friday afternoon Patron Preview slot in Telluride before arriving in Toronto, and has gathered awards-season buzz along the way.

The People's Choice Award for best Midnight Madness sidebar title went to Ben Wheatley's Free Fire, which stars Brie Larson. The first runner-up was Andre Ovredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and the second runner-up was Julia Ducournau’s Raw

The top audience award for a documentary was picked up by Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro, which is based on an unfinished James Baldwin novel. The first runner-up was Steve James’ Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, and the second runner-up was Fisher Stevens’ Before the Flood.

Elsewhere, the Platform Award for best international film went to Jackie, helmed by Pablo Larrain and starring Natalie Portman. And the NETPAC Award for best Asian film receiving a world or international premiere at TIFF was given to Maysaloun Hamoud's In Between, an Arabic- and Hebrew-language film about three Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv.

Mbithi Masya's Kati Kati, a Kenya-Germany co-production, took home the FIPRESCI critics' prize for the best title in the Discovery sidebar. And the FIPRESCI jury's best Special Presentations program honor went to I Am Not Madame Bovary from Chinese director Fen Xiaogang, who accepted the prize via video link, alongside lead Fan Bingbing, from the San Sebastian Film Festival.

The best Canadian feature film trophy was awarded to Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie's Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves, a three-hour drama about a radical Quebec leftist cell in Montreal, which had its world premiere in Toronto.

The best Canadian first feature film award was nabbed by Old Stone, a Mandarin-language drama directed by Johnny Ma that debuted in Berlin and had its North American premiere in Toronto. The best Canadian short film award went to Alexandre Dostie's Mutants, while the best short film in the TIFF lineup was given to Imago, the first film from director Raymund Ribay Gutierrez.