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TORONTO – Lebanese director Nadine Labaki on Sunday picked up the top audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival for Where Do We Go Now?
Set against the backdrop of an un-named war-torn country in the Middle East, Where Do We Go Now? portrays a group of determined women protecting their isolated, mine-encircled community from hot-headed Christian and Muslim men bent on revenge against their fellow villagers. Pathe International was shopping the picture in Toronto.
Labaki’s debut film, Caramel, screened as a gala at TIFF in 2007.
STORY: Toronto 2011: ‘Where Do We Go Now?’ Wins Audience Award
Toronto fest director Cameron Bailey, who saw Labaki’s film in Cannes, said it has a “heart” that disguise inner seriousness with a playful storyline.
“She has a human touch and a humanity to her work, and she mixes the dramatic with comedy and there’s always a sense of warmth,” he said. The Lebanese film stars Labaki, Kevin Abboud and Julian Farhat.
Where Do We Go Now? received standing ovations at its public screenings, ahead of earning the top prize in Toronto.
“You never know how it happens. Sometimes it’s completely unexpected. Until now, wherever we have screened the film, we’ve had positive reactions,” Labaki told The Hollywood Reporter about the Lebanese village drama heading into TIFF ten days ago. “People are surprised by the emotions they feel, as they go from laughter to tears: a normal audience who let themselves go to these kinds of emotions will respond positively,” she added.
Labaki’s film will now join a prestigious list of earlier festival titles like The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Bella and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that earned the People’s Choice Award in Toronto before going on to grab Oscar gold.
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The audience award for best documentary went to Jon Shenk for The Island President, which followed Mohamed Nasheed, the president of the Maldives, attempting to rally the world community to save his island from sinking owing to rising seas from climate change.
And the audience award for the best film from the Midnight Madness genres sidebar went to Gareth Evans for The Raid, which starred Indonesian martial arts sensation Iko Uwais.
Among the other prizes unveiled at TIFF’s wrap luncheon Sunday, Philippe Falardeau won the $30,000 best Canadian feature trophy for Monsieur Lazhar, which earlier earned two awards in Locarno. Falardeau, on accepting his prize Sunday, noted all four of his theatrical features had screened in Toronto over 11 years.
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“I could not foresee a long love affair with this festival. I believe we’re up to the marriage status,” he said.
And Nathan Morlando took home the $15,000 best Canadian first feature prize for Edwin Boyd, a drama about a true life Canadian bank robber-turned-folk hero.
Elsewhere, Doubles With Slight Pepper, shot in Trinidad by debut filmmaker Ian Harnarine won the best Canadian short film prize and $10,000, while Swedish director Axel Petersen earned the FIPRESCI critics prize for the Discovery program for his debut Avalon.
The FIPRESCI prize for special presentations went to Gianni Amelio for The First Man, based on the Albert Camus novel.
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The prize-giving brings to a close ten days of star-watching, led by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, local boy Ryan Gosling and rockers like Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and U2’s Bono leading the charge up the Toronto red carpet into film premieres and parties.
Toronto’s Bailey added around 30 films that screened at TIFF were sold on the ground, indicating a rebounding indie film market, despite a dark economic cloud hanging over the industry.
“There’s probably a little more caution, given the debt crisis recently. But distributors need movies and we had some good ones,” he said.
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