Auds laud 'Cup,' 'Yesterday'

TORONTO — Sam Mendes’ black comedy “American Beauty,” which debuted in limited release this weekend, received the 24th Toronto International Film Festival’s Air Canada People’s Choice Award.

Though the event has steered clear of an official competition, the long-standing Air Canada prize — balloted on by fest audiences — is considered the event’s top honor. Toronto also features a handful of other juried and specialized citations.

Cited as runners up for the audience prize were “The Cup” from Bhutan, an unusual yarn of soccer-obsessed Buddhist monks set to open the upcoming Vancouver fest, and the Philippine village tale “Yesterday Children.”

Young Perspective

The jury for the Perspective Canada section was unusually generous with this year’s prizes, including a first-ever special mention to three young actors in competing pics. Another special mention was given to Rodrigue Jean as “a compelling new voice” for his work, and vet Quebec filmmaker Lea Pool was given a citation of merit for her latest, “Emporte-moi.”

Two features received cash honors — the doc “Just Watch Me: Trudeau and the ’70s Generation,” by Catherine Annau, walked away with $15,000; the section’s opener, Jeremy Podeswa’s “The Five Senses” (which will open in the U.S. via Fine Line), took feature honors and a $25,000 check.

“I know it’s a tradition to say what you’re going to do with the money but I think I’m going to keep it a secret,” Podeswa said. “I will say that I’m not going to buy illegal substances and I’m not gonna give it away.” The latter comment drew chuckles from those who recalled Atom Egoyan ceding his money to Thom Fitzgerald when he co-won the honor two years ago.

Annau said “Trudeau” didn’t necessarily strike a Canadian chord because of its subject matter. “It’s not a film about politics, it’s a film about human emotion. It’s a love story. It’s about how we build identities. If it was just about Canadian politics, I wouldn’t have won this prize.”

Patrick Demers’ “Decharge” was named the John Spotten Award winner as best Canadian short film.

Crix catch ‘Fish’

The international critics Film Discovery prize, selected from 31 selections in the event’s Discovery section, went to the American indie “Goat on Fire and Smiling Fish,” a coming-of- age yarn by Kevin Jordan. Runners up were the U.K.’s “Human Traffic,” recently acquired by Miramax, and another Brit pic, “Spring Forward.”

The separate International press jury (FIPRESCI) gave its honor to China’s “Shower.” Rumored to be close to a domestic buyer, the film was cited by the panel “for its humor and compassion in its treatment of the tensions of family life in a rapidly changing society.”

Fest director Piers Handling announced that the 25th anni edition in 2000 has already mapped out several new elements. Ten Canadian filmmakers, including David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Denys Arcand, Patricia Rozema and Guy Maddin, have been commissioned to film short “preludes” (approximately four minutes in length) for producer Niv Fichman, which will run prior to Gala presentations a la the vignettes produced for Cannes’ 50th edition. There will also be a commemorative book, “The Big Picture,” to be written by Maclean’s magazine scribe Brian Johnson and a black-tie tribute of a major international filmmaker described as a fest discovery.

Done deals

Though Toronto maintains an arm’s length attitude to the considerable contingent of U.S. and international film buyers, talent reps and government agents, the event was buzzing with deals throughout its 10-day run. A number of tyro talents were being courted by management agencies and studio scouts with the seeds of those labors likely to spawn fruit in the next six to 12 months.

On the acquisitions front, sales were steady though lacked the sort of spectacular figures of past discoveries such as “The Apostle.” One sales rep said he was confident he would land deals for all six pics he was flogging but that there would be nothing this year with the sort of eye-popping numbers of “Happy, Texas” or “The Castle.”

“The key today is making the deal for a fair number,” he said. “There’s no lack of product for companies like Miramax and Sony Classics, so they’re being very selective. However, Fine Line, Paramount Classics and Trimark are light and they’ll wind up buying films out of this festival.”

Fine Line already snapped up “The Five Senses” from Canada, the Belgium-French “A Pornographic Affair” and the U.S. indie “But I’m a Cheerleader.” Other pickups included “East-West” to Sony Classics, the Brit “Human Traffic” to Miramax and “Bloody Angels” from Norway to USA Films. Another dozen titles, including “A Room for Romeo Brass” from the U.K. and U.S. indie “The Big Kahuna,” have had offers that will likely be closed in the coming month.

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