Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans has won the People’s Choice prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The coming-of-age ode to cinema was announced as the winner during a TIFF awards breakfast, capping off 10 days of in-person filmgoing and festivities. Canadian films also saw a strong showing at Sunday’s ceremony, with Riceboy Sleeps winning the prestigious Platform Prize.
Billed as the legendary director’s most personal project to date, The Fabelmans marked Spielberg’s TIFF debut.
“As I said onstage the other night, above all I’m glad I brought this film to Toronto,” Spielberg said in a statement shared during the awards presentation.
“The warm reception from everyone in Toronto made my first visit to TIFF so intimate and personal for me and my entire ‘Fabelman’ family.”
The People’s Choice prize, chosen through online votes, is often seen as a predictor of Academy Award success.
Last year’s winner was Kenneth Branagh’s Northern Ireland-set family drama Belfast.
In the vein of Belfast and Roma, The Fabelmans is an auteur filmmaker’s retelling of his own childhood and the family dynamics that shaped him.
Set in midcentury Arizona, the drama stars Michelle Williams and Paul Dano as the parents of teenage cinephile Sammy Fabelman, while Seth Rogen takes on the role of a close family friend.
Among the previous People’s Choice winners that have nabbed best picture are Nomadland, Green Book, 12 Years a Slave, The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire.
The first runner-up for this year’s prize was Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel Women Talking, which centres on a remote religious community grappling with how to respond to a serial problem of sexual abuse.
The second runner-up was Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Rian Johnson’s star-studded followup to his 2019 TIFF-hit about the adventures of drawling detective Benoit Blanc, played by Daniel Craig.
Vancouver writer-director Anthony Shim’s breakout second feature Riceboy Sleeps was honoured with the Platform Prize, chosen by an international jury headed by Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema.
In announcing the winner of the $20,000 prize, Rozema said Riceboy Sleeps stood out among the diverse field of international contenders for its “deeply moving story” about navigating a “specifically Canadian version of racism.”
Set in the 1990s, the film explores the ruptures that form between a South Korean single mom and her teenage son as they start anew in Canada.
As he took to the stage to accept the award, Shim choked back tears at he thanked his mother and little sister “who always believed that I could do things like this, even at my lowest points.”
In an interview after the ceremony, Shim said it was “surreal” to receive so much acknowledgment for a story that means so much to him.
“I just figured that the smartest thing I could do making this film is to be as personal as I can,” said Shim. “To bare as much as my own self and my heart into this and hopefully that will help this film not become redundant and find its own life.”
Oscar-nominated Canadian filmmaker Hubert Davis’s “Black Ice,” which looks at how anti-Black racism has shaped hockey, picked up the People’s Choice Documentary Award.
“We would like to thank all the players who opened up their stories to us in order to try and make meaningful change in the game of hockey,” Davis said in a statement read at the ceremony.
“This journey to uncover often untold stories of the Black contribution to not only hockey, but this country, is just beginning. And we are honoured this film can play a small role in contributing to that conversation.”
Canadian-Italian filmmaker Luis De Filippis’s debut feature, Something You Said Last Night, took the Shawn Mendes Foundation’s Changemaker Award, which comes with a $10,000 cash prize. The Canadian-Swiss drama follows a young transgender woman who accompanies her family on vacation.
The Amplify Voices Award for Best Canadian Feature Film, worth $10,000, went to Toronto-raised director Nisha Pahuja’s documentary To Kill a Tiger, about a farmer in India who is fighting for justice in the gang rape of his 13-year-old daughter.