Toronto: Taika Waititi's 'Jojo Rabbit' Wins Audience Award

Jojo Rabbit - TIFF - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of TIFF

The first runner-up for TIFF's top award was Noah Baumbach's 'Marriage Story,' followed by Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite.'

Taika Waititi's anti-hate satire Jojo Rabbit, in which the filmmaker stars as Adolf Hitler, has joined the search for the next Oscar frontrunner out of the Toronto International Film Festival after picking up the top People's Choice honor on Sunday.

Waititi's comedy centers on a German boy during World War II whose best friend is an imaginary Hitler. The film, which made its world premiere at TIFF, also stars Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson and Thomasin McKenzie.

The first runner-up for TIFF's top People's Choice award was Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story, which also stars Johansson, followed by Bong Joon-ho's Parasite

Thor: Ragnarok director Waititi also received the TIFF Ebert Director Award while premiering his latest movie. Waititi's film credits include Boy, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. He is also set to direct Thor 4. Fox Searchlight's Jojo Rabbit is set to open Oct. 18.

In a statement sent to The Hollywood Reporter, Waititi celebrated the news, calling the award a "tremendous honor." "Jojo Rabbit is a story of tolerance and understanding set in a time that lacked both, and I hope in making this film we can remind ourselves that it’s still possible to connect with each other even under the most chaotic of circumstances — no matter what age, religion, race or gender. It was an incredible experience making this film and I’m happy the world had the opportunity to see it for the first time at TIFF," he said. 

Fox Searchlight Pictures chairmen Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula also celebrated the news, saying, "We saw firsthand how Toronto International Film Festival audiences responded to Jojo Rabbit. We’re incredibly proud of this film, Taika and the entire filmmaking team, and the message that love can rise above evil — we can’t wait to introduce Jojo Rabbit to the rest of the world!" 

The People's Choice award for the best Midnight Madness title went to Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia's The Platform, a Spanish-language dystopian drama. The first runner-up was Andrew Patterson's sci-fi thriller The Vast of Night, while the second runner-up was Jeff Barnaby's indigenous zombie drama Blood Quantum

The People's Choice award for best documentary went to Feras Fayyad's The Cave, in which the director returns to his war-torn Syria to follow a team of women doctors treating battlefield casualties in an underground hospital while enduring systemic sexism. The first runner-up was Garin Hovannisian's I Am Not Alone, while the second runner-up was Bryce Dallas Howard's Dads.

TIFF also earlier named Pietro Marcello's Martin Eden as the winner of its Platform trophy, a juried competition prize traditionally unveiled on the final Sunday of the fest.

In other prize-giving moments on Sunday, the NETPAC award went to Oualid Mouaness' 1982, which stars Nadine Labaki and is set during Lebanon's 1982 invasion. The best Canadian feature film trophy was awarded to Sophie Deraspe's Antigone, while Mathew Rankin's The Twentieth Century earned the juried best first Canadian feature award. 

Both Canadian indie films are being distributed by Maison 4:3 and will receive theatrical releases domestically later this year.

TIFF's top audience prize winner is often a barometer of future Academy Award nominations after last year's top People's Choice winner, Peter Farrelly's Green Book, went on to win best picture at the Oscars. The film beat out frontrunner Roma.

Previous TIFF audience award winners including Room, La La Land and 12 Years a Slave received a lift from the festival on their way to Academy Awards glory. The People's Choice awards are voted on by TIFF attendees, either with their ticket stubs placed in a box in a theater or with an online vote. Voters cannot vote more than once online using their email address, as TIFF measures the origin of each vote and matches them to the festival's ticket buyer information and database.

This year, TIFF for the first time announced its audience and most of its juried competition winners via social media and a press release after canceling its formal awards ceremony. The move comes as big-name filmmakers have left the fest by the event's end and are expected to mark their wins on social media.

Sept. 15, 12:31 p.m. Updated with statements from Waititi and Fox Searchlight Pictures chairmen Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula.