Pic feted with People's Choice Award

“Bella,” the debut feature written and directed by Mexican-born Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, took home the People’s Choice Award as the 31st Toronto Intl. Film Festival wrapped Saturday.

Fest auds eschewed star-studded fare to tap the New York-set redemption tale, which stars Eduardo Verastegui as a once-promising athlete turned cook who befriends a pregnant waitress (Tammy Blanchard).

The second- and third-place audience picks were Patrice Leconte’s “Mon meilleur ami” and the gala doc “Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing,” from Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck.

While not officially a competitive fest, Toronto caps off every year with a handful of high-profile awards and cash.

Described by fest co-director Noah Cowan as “easily the most dangerous and breathtakingly original film I have encountered this year,” “Death of a President,” Gabriel Range’s controversial pic featuring the simulated assassination of President George W. Bush, took the Fipresci Prize, juried by international critics.

The Toronto-City Award for Canuck feature went to the doc “Manufactured Landscapes,” a breathtaking profile of the work of Canadian photog Edward Burtynsky in industrial China, directed by Jennifer Baichwal.

Reg Harkema’s counterculture relationship tale “Monkey Warfare” received honorable mention.

The Citytv Award for Canadian first feature went to Noel Mitrani’s deadpan comedy “Sur la trace d’Igor Rizzi.”

Ozer Kiziltan’s “Takva — A Man’s Fear of God,” a Turkish/German co-production in which a devout man is forced to question his faith, took the inaugural Swarovski Cultural Innovation Award, selected from the fest’s Visions program slate. Honorable mention went to the spiritual-journey tale “Khadak,” from Peter Brosen and Jessica Woodworth.

The Diesel Discovery Award for new talent went to Joachim Trier’s “Reprise,” a coming-of-age story set in the post-punk literary world.

The Short Cuts Canada prize went to “Les Jours,” from Maxime Giroux.

Fest ran for 10 days and unspooled 261 feature films.

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