TIFF Tribute Award Winners Talk Festival Return, Fate of Movie Theaters, Quarantine Binges

TIFF Tribute Award honourees, from left,
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The 2021 crop of the Toronto Film Festival’s Tribute Awards honorees gathered on Saturday to discuss their cinematic achievements and indulge in some responsible human contact.

This year’s recipients — including Jessica Chastain, Benedict Cumberbatch, Denis Villeneuve, Alanis Obomsawin, Ari Wegner, Danis Goulet and Dionne Warwick — sat for a press conference moderated by Variety at premiere festival venue Roy Thomson Hall.

Chastain, who took the TIFF Tribute Actor Award for a prolific decade on screen thus far, saw the conference as a homecoming.

“I came here ten years ago with a movie called ‘Take Shelter.’ It was the beginning of my career. It’s become an incredible festival to visit over the years. I’ve also shot six movies in Canada, two in Montreal, so I kind of feel like I’m Canadian if you guys will have me,” said the actor and producer, who is unveiling her new film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” on the ground this weekend.

Chastain’s fellow Tribute Actor Award winner Cumberbatch called TIFF the best festival in terms of audience interaction, saying the festival brings “that feeling, that flash of connection on the roads outside that were missing a little bit this year. It feels like it’s coming back.”

Cumberbatch is in town with two premieres, Jane Campion’s Venice winner “The Power of the Dog” and the Amazon Studios title “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain.”

Just ahead of the conference, Variety caught  up with “Louis Wain” director Will Sharpe about his star’s honor.

“Louis Wain as a painter, historical figure and a husband was somebody who chose not to settle for convention, deciding rather to follow his heart despite the uncertainties he faced in life. Working with as gifted and kinetic an actor as Benedict was paramount in bringing Louis Wain to life, and I am very proud to have him and the film honored here in Toronto at this special festival,” Sharpe said.

Obomsawin, whose 52-year career as a documentarian has largely been devoted to sharing the stories of the Canadian First Nations, told emotional stories about her introduction to cinema in the small towns of her youth. Moving through her filmography, Obomsawin shared a trade secret: before she rolls any footage on her subject, she records lengthy, audio-only interviews first.

“To this day, I still do solid sound interviews without the camera for me to hear. For me, it’s sacred to listen. The best gift you can give to people is to give them time,” she said.

Though seated at only 30% capacity, the crowd at the Roy Thomson was thrilled to hear Twitter sensation and music icon Warwick speak about her new documentary “Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over.” The Grammy-winning trailblazer revealed that she watched the film for the first time by herself in New York’s Apollo Theater.

“Looking at my growth from the beginning to what I’ll now call present time, it was very interesting. There were a lot of things I forgot. I enjoyed it, getting to know me. I’m a pretty good girl,” she said.

Sitting at Cumberbatch’s side, Warwick revealed that one of her biggest Netflix binges over the coronavirus pandemic was “Sherlock Holmes,” in which he stars.

“I’m so happy right now,” Cumberbatch said.

Watch the full press conference below, and read the the full list of awards:

Jessica Chastain, TIFF Tribute Actor Award supported by the Tory Family
Benedict Cumberbatch, TIFF Tribute Actor Award
Denis Villeneuve, TIFF Ebert Director Award
Alanis Obomsawin, Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media supported by Participant Media
Ari Wegner, TIFF Variety Artisan Award
Danis Goulet, TIFF Emerging Talent Award presented by L’Oréal Paris and supported by MGM
Dionne Warwick, TIFF Special Tribute Award