'Precious' takes top Toronto prize

'Mao's Last Dancer,' 'Micmacs' earn awards

TORONTO -- The Oscar shot for Lee Daniels' "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" grew Sunday when the coming-of-age tale about an obese, pregnant Harlem teenager picked up the top audience award in Toronto.

The Lionsgate Films pictures, executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, beat out first runner-up "Mao's Last Dancer," by Bruce Beresford, and second runner-up Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "Micmacs" in a competition voted on by ordinary film-goers in Toronto.

"The audience award holds such an important meaning," Daniels said in a statement from the San Sebastian Film Festival, where "Precious" will screen Sunday evening.  "I made this film for every person out there who ever looked in the mirror and felt unsure about the person looking back," Daniels added.

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Oprah Winfrey came on board "Precious" as an executive producer alongside Tyler Perry after the drama debuted in Sundance last January. Her march up the red carpet in Toronto with Daniels and cast members to promote the drama provided the biggest star buzz of the 10-day festival.

"Precious" taking the top audience prize in Toronto will also boost the Oscar chances for newcomer Gabourey Sidibe in the film's title role and actor/comedian Mo'Nique, who plays her tyrannical mother.

Toronto's top audience award is often an indicator of future Academy Award nominations, with past recipients including best picture winners "Slumdog Millionaire" and "American Beauty."

Other audience prizes in Toronto included "The Topp Twins," a film about lesbian twin sister singers by New Zealand director Leanne Pooley, beating out Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" in the best documentary category. And Sean Byrne's "The Loved Ones," a drama about a troubled teen's prom dreams, grabbed the Midnight Madness audience award.

Elsewhere, Bruno Dumont's "Hadewijch," a French drama about a girl whose love of Jesus leads her to terrorism, grabbed the FIPRESCI critics prize, while Pedro Pires' "Danse Macabre"  earned the best canadian short film award.

Elsewhere, Canadian filmmaker Alexandre Franchi's "The Wild Hunt" grabbed the best Canadian first feature film award, and Ruba Nadda's "Cairo Time" picked up the best Canadian feature film trophy in Toronto.

As TIFF ended its ten-day run Saturday, festival co-director Piers Handling said a quiet market with few seven-figure U.S. distribution deals meant indie film was not through its industry woes.

"The days of the bidding wars are over to a certain extent. For North American sales, they will take longer in the coming years," he said in his crisis-era film market comments.

High profile deals in Toronto this year included Tom Ford's "A Single Man" going to The Weinstein Co., IFC picking up Nicolas Winding Refn's "Valhalla Rising" and Canadian Peter Stebbings's "Defendor" being acquired by Sony Pictures Worldwide.

Closer to home, Alliance Films picked up Canadian director Rob Stefaniuk's "Suck," "A Single Man" and "Defendor" for Canada, and unveiled a new supply deal with U.S. distribution outfit Apparition.

But fewer deals for lower prices than in past years meant around 100 indie films, many with A-list directors and actors, will have to wait until after Toronto for possible U.S. distribution deals, likely to be inked at AFM.

"This doesn¹t speak to the quality of films as much as where the market is," Handling said.