Lee Daniels' drama wins People's Choice

Lee Daniels’ inner-city drama, “Precious, Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” nabbed the 34th Toronto Film Festival’s People’s Choice prize on Saturday.

“Precious,” starring Gabourey Sidibe, attracted mob scenes the likes of which the fest has rarely seen, thanks to exec producer Oprah Winfrey’s red carpet appearance and promotional push.

With Sundance’s grand jury, aud and acting (Mo’Nique) prizes already in the trophy case, the Lionsgate pic is solidly poised for awards season contention, if the eight-Oscar legacy of Toronto’s 2008 aud winner “Slumdog Millionaire” is any indication.

Helmer Daniels, in San Sebastian for the pic’s Euro preem, was not on hand to receive the prize. Australian helmer Bruce Beresford’s “Mao’s Last Dancer” and French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Micmacs” were fest auds’ first and second runners-up respectively.

Toronto’s inaugural documentary aud award went to helmer Leanne Pooley’s “The Topp Twins,” about the Kiwi lesbian C&W singing duo, who also performed at the Yonge-Dundas Square. Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” was runner-up.

Midnight Madness fans loved Aussie pics, with Sean Byrne’s prom horror flick “The Loved Ones” nabbing the aud prize, with Michael and Peter Spierig’s “Daybreakers” as runner-up.

The Fipresci critics’ prize for a pic in the Discovery program went to Laxmikant Shetgaonkar’s Indian village drama “The Man Beyond the Bridge,” while the critics’ prize for a Special Presentations program pic went to Toronto and Cannes vet helmer Bruno Dumont’s “Hadewijch.”

The jury-chosen Canadian film award went to Toronto helmer Ruba Nadda’s grown-up romance “Cairo Time,” starring Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig. The jury gave a special citation to Quebec veteran helmer Bernard Émond’s “La Donation” (The Legacy), the final pic in his trilogy.

Best Canadian first feature went to Alexandre Franchi’s role-playing fantasy drama, “The Wild Hunt.” Cautious U.S. buyers gave Canuck fare, particular smart comedies, more room to shine at the fest.

Woody Harrelson-starrer “Defendor,” helmed and scripted by Canuck thesp Peter Stebbings, made headlines with its Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group pickup, while Canuck-born Jay Baruchel (“Tropic Thunder”) drew approving eyes to Jacob Tierney’s “The Trotsky.”

As Mark Sloan, a senior VP at Alliance Films, Canuck distrib and pre-buyer of “Defendor” and “Trotsky,” said on Friday,

“The lack of U.S. bidding war drama and good reviews meant Canadian films became front-page news, and players here were able to attract attention they might not have received in the past,” said Mark Sloan, senior VP at Alliance Films, Canuck distrib and pre-buyer of “Defendor” and “Trotsky.”

The Toronto fest’s industry office saw delegate numbers on par with last year at 3,156, but with significant country variations.

Australian delegate count was way up, thanks to the country’s strong presence across the fest’s programming, while the Spanish numbers jumped 40% thanks to healthy biz and government support. France and the U.K. remained steady, while there were fewer execs from Japan and the U.S.

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