’12 Years a Slave’ wins People’s Choice Award at TIFF 2013

Will Perkins

Journalists, filmmakers, and film lovers gathered for the Toronto International Film Festival’s annual awards brunch on Sunday afternoon to eat, drink, and learn who the big winners at TIFF 2013 were.

As many predicted it would, Steve McQueen’s brutal slavery drama “12 Years a Slave” took home the coveted BlackBerry People's Choice Award. The film, which stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, and Lupita Nyong’o, was an early favourite for the audience award, and beat out Stephen Frears’ drama “Philomena” and Denis Villeneuve’s thriller “Prisoners” for the prize. Many expected Alfonso Cuarón’s harrowing space survival movie “Gravity” to be the runner-up.

Although TIFF’s People’s Choice award is no guarantee of future success (see 2011’s mostly forgotten winner "Where Do We Go Now?"), many past recipients (like “American Beauty,” "Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King's Speech,” and “Silver Linings Playbook”) have gone on to big things come Oscar season. The high profile Toronto is a major feather in the cap for “12 Years a Slave,” which is already a favourite for Best Picture.

Before you scoff at TIFF's awards as just some self-congratulatory pat on the back, keep in mind that the smaller festival prizes are very important for a number of reasons. While bigger the awards like the People's Choice may just be a checkbox for movies angling for Oscar, the other awards give much-deserved attention and recognition to great films that otherwise might go by largely unnoticed. It's very hard to get a movie made these days, and these awards put money into the pockets of emerging and established filmmakers who desperately need funds to keep producing quality work.

Here are some of the other TIFF 2013 award winners:

The Blackberry People’s Choice Documentary Award went to filmmaker Jehane Noujaim’s fascinating doc “The Square,” a film centered on the ongoing unrest in Cairo’s now iconic Tahrir Square. The director dedicated the win to filmmaker John Greyson and physician Dr. Tarek Loubani, two Canadians currently imprisoned in Egypt.

Japanese director Sion Sono’s bloody Yakuza movie “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” took home the Blackberry People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award. Past winners include “Seven Psychopaths” and “The Raid.”

The Grolsch Film Works Discovery Award went to director Gia Milani’s “All the Wrong Reasons,” one of the last films to feature late Canadian actor Cory Monteith ("Glee").

The YouTube Award for Best Canadian Short Film went to “Noah,” a 17-minute short dramedy from student filmmakers Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederburg. The film, which went viral online late last week, is told entirely through computer and phone screens of its main character. Watch "Noah" below (trust us, it's worth it):

The award for Best Canadian First Feature Film went to Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver's animated flick “Asphalt Watches.” Watch it below:

The City of Toronto & Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature went to Alan Zweig’s documentary “When Jews Were Funny,” a film about the history of Jewish comedy featuring interviews with Howie Mandel, Bob “Super Dave” Einstein, Marc Maron, Gilbert Gotfried, and more. In his acceptance speech, Zweig joked that he would be buying his wife a new kitchen with the prize money. Special mention was given to director Peter Stebbings’ First Nations drama “Empire of Dirt.”

The FIPRESCI (The International Federation of Film Critics) also gave out several prizes at the event. The Discovery Award went to Claudia Sainte-Luce’s “The Amazing Catfish” and the Special Presentations Award went to Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Ida.”

The NETPAC Award for World or International Asian Film Premiere went to Anup Singh’s India-Pakistan partition drama “Qissa.”

The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival runs from until Sept. 15.

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