Fox Searchlight pic named People's Choice

Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” hit the jackpot, nabbing the people’s choice award at the 33rd annual Toronto Intl. Film Festival.

“Slumdog” cast member Freida Pinto was on hand at the fest’s closing kudos brunch Saturday to accept the award, which comes with a C$15,000 ($14,141) cash prize. “This is a film about an underdog who believes in something, and is a tribute to Mumbai,” Pinto said.

The fest, which opened Sept. 4 and unspooled more than 300 films, had a definite underdog vibe.

“It was a difficult year,” TIFF CEO Piers Handling said in opening remarks. “People felt some of the films they took up last fall did not perform that well, so there was a sense of slight gloom and depression.”

Still, he pointed to high-profile U.S. sales of “The Wrestler,” “Che” and “The Hurt Locker” and international sales of “Skin” and “Valentino” among many other deals still in motion as proof the fest was well worth the trip for its 3,000-plus sales and industry delegates.

The Fipresci international critics’prize for a pic in Special Presentations went to Steve Jacobs’ “Disgrace,” starring John Malkovich.

“Lymelife,” starring Alec Baldwin and Rory and Kieran Culkin, won the Fipresci jury’s prize for a film in the Discovery program.

“Here come the Americans,” joked “Lymelife” helmer Derick Martini, one of the few non-Canadians in the room. In town for pic’s final screening, a completely surprised Martini accepted the award for his tale of family dynamics in 1970s Long Island after an outbreak of Lyme disease. “This is a very personal film and I’m so appreciative of the festival.”

Cassian Elwes of William Morris Independent is fielding several offers, according to “Lymelife” producer Jonathan Cornick. Martin Scorsese exec produced.

Jury president Jonathan Rosenbaum said he and fellow crix Nick Roddick, Elie Castiel, Ranjita Biswas, Kim Linekin and Pablo Scholz were in complete agreement on both winners, despite the large number of films considered.

Brit helmer Steve McQueen’s Camera d’Or winner “Hunger,” the much-lauded drama about IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, picked up the Discovery Award, voted on by 1,000 international film scribes attending the fest. Award offers a $9,433 cash prize.

The top Canuck pics are both stories of isolation: Helmer Rodrigue Jean’s “Lost Song” won for Canadian feature, while Marie-Helene Cousineau and Madeline Piujuq Ivalu’s “Before Tomorrow” won for Canadian first feature. Special citations went to Atom Egoyan’s “Adoration” and Lyne Charlebois’ “Borderline.”

Chris Chong Chan Fui’s “Block B,” an experimental pic about an expat Indian community in contemporary Malaysia , won for Canadian short.

The festival closed Saturday night with a gala screening of helmer-writer Charles Martin Smith’s “Stone of Destiny.” Dubbed the Scottish “Big Chill,” pic is based on the true story of a 1951 raid by four Glaswegian students to “steal” back a symbol of Scottish pride.

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