‘Life’ tops Toronto

Benigni pic People's Choice; journos find 'Happiness'

TORONTO — Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful” won the People’s Choice Award as the most popular film at the 23rd annual Toronto Intl. Film Festival, which ended Saturday.

The first feature by Ireland’s Kirk Jones, “Waking Ned Devine,” was the runnerup, followed by “Central Station,” from Brazil Walter Salles.

Todd Solondz’s “Happiness” took the Metro Media Award, voted on by the 740 journalists who attended the festival. Next in the voting were “Life Is Beautiful,” and “Central Station.”

Robert Lepage and Don McKellar were this year’s Canadian honorees. Lepage’s low-budget political satire, “No,” won the best Canadian feature, and McKellar’s end-of-the-world tale “Last Night,” which he wrote, directed and starred in, took the prize for best Canadian first feature.

“No,” set in Osaka, Japan, during the world’s fair and Quebec during the October crisis in 1970, opened the Montreal World Film Festival two weeks ago. U.S. rights for McKellar’s “Last Night,” which opened the Toronto festival’s Perspective Canada program, were picked up last week by Lions Gate.

The Critics’ Award for young and emerging directors, selected by a panel from FIPRESCI, an international organization of film critics, went to Ziad Doueiri for his coming of age tale set in the opening years of Lebanaon’s civil war, “West Beirut,” and Australia’s John Curran, for his first feature, “Praise.” a modern love story.

The best Canadian short film was “When Ponds Freeze Over,” from Mary Lewis.

Festival director Piers Handling said that 5,000 delegates were on hand, including 500 buyers and sellers and 800 filmmakers. More than 250,000 people attended public screenings of the more than 300 films over the festival’s 10 days.

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