Spielberg’s latest film grabbed TIFF’s top audience award, which is often a barometer of future Academy Award nominations. “This is the most personal film I’ve ever made, and 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 director said in a statement following the announcement of his win.
The Fabelmans, co-written with Tony Kushner, marks the first time the Oscar winner debuted a movie at the Toronto Film Festival. The childhood memoir will be released Nov. 11 via Universal. Another autobiographical family film about a director’s childhood, Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, was named the top audience prize winner in Toronto in 2021.
The People’s Choice award for best documentary went to Hubert Davis’ Black Ice, a film about systemic racism in Canadian ice hockey, while the top audience prize for best Midnight Madness sidebar title went to Eric Appel’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.
The People’s Choice Awards are voted on by TIFF attendees. Participants could not vote more than once online using their email address, as TIFF measured the origin of each vote and matched them to the festival’s ticket buyer information and database.
In juried prize-giving, Vancouver-based director Anthony Shim won the Platform prize for Riceboy Sleeps, a family drama about dislocation, reconciliation and love. “I am thrilled to have Riceboy Sleeps recognized by the programmers, the Platform jury and by audiences at this year’s TIFF. It was amazing to see the reaction to the film our team worked so hard on and that is such a deeply personal project,” Shim, who directed, wrote, edited, produced and starred in the film, said in a statement.
The FIPRESCI prize went to Basil Khalil’s feature debut A Gaza Weekend, while the NETPAC award was picked up by Jub Clerc for her own debut feature, Sweet As, a coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old Indigenous girl.
The Short Cuts prize went to Snow in September, by director Purev-Ochir, and the best Canadian short prize went to Simo, by Aziz Zoromba. The Share Her Journey prize went to director Carol Nguyen for Nanitic, a short film made during the pandemic; the director was diagnosed with COVID-19 while participating in Toronto’s 47th edition.
In other prize-giving, the Amplify Voice Award went to Martika Ramirez Escobar’s Leonore Will Never Die after the film also earned a Sundance Special Jury Prize. Nisha Pahuja’s To Kill a Tiger, about an Indian family’s quest for justice after a teenage girl is brutally assaulted, earned the Amplify Voices Award for best Canadian feature, while the best feature by a BIPOC filmmaker went to While We Watched by Vinay Shukla.
TIFF juries also gave the Changemaker Award to Luis De Filippis for her latest film, Something You Said Last Night.
On the film sales front, dealmaking took a back seat to major buyers truffling through the festival’s lineup for a hidden gem over the past 10 days. Industry attendees report a dearth of acquisition titles and a host of fest titles with U.S. distribution already in place. The festival had the Hollywood studios and streamers and other film buyers on the ground in Toronto, but hardly bringing out their wallet as part of TIFF’s informal film market.
Roberto Stabile, head of international development at ANICA, the association of Italian producers, told The Hollywood Reporter that Italian movie titles sold well in Cannes and more recently in Venice, leaving filmmakers looking next to Rome’s MIA market in mid-October for additional sales activity. Stabile said that the focus in Toronto would be on lining up co-production financing and partners out of North America to fill out their film development slates.
“Italy is not just a nice country with beautiful landscapes and great food. Italy is a very important co-production partner, and also for foreign movies that shoot in Italy with a 40 percent tax credit,” Stabile insisted. After Cannes, most film sellers and buyers appeared to save their biggest ammunition for the American Film Market.
The Toronto market wasn’t completely dry, but the biggest deal — Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers landing at Focus Features for around $30 million — was no splashy premiere and was shopped instead at TIFF as part of an informal market and outside the main festival lineup.
Delphine Perrier, COO of Highland Film Group, said her indie banner nabbed territorial sales for films going into production like Land of Bad, starring Russell Crowe and Liam Hemsworth that starts shooting in Australia next week, and Blood For Dust, starring Kit Harington, Josh Lucas and Scoot McNairy, set to shoot this fall.
“Toronto worked well and it was a strong market for us. We had a great response from buyers to Sleeping Dogs and Blood For Dust — there was a lot of competition in the key territories which is surprising, given that Toronto is a film festival and doesn’t have an official market component,” Perrier said.
Elsewhere, Toronto worked to catch up to Cannes or the American Film Market as a launchpad for packages and pre-sales. Erin Creasey, director of industry development at Ontario Creates, which markets Ontario to major studios and streamers in Los Angeles as a destination for shooting originals, said major online platforms like Netflix and Amazon attended her International Financing Forum to prowl for projects at the script stage or discuss possible new ones.
“We present the list of projects to their development executives and if they’re interested in talking to producers, they show up for the event,” Creasey said of IFF, with earlier editions at TIFF spawning titles like the Anna Kendrick-starrer Alice, Darling and Lindsay MacKay’s The Swearing Jar, both of which screened in Toronto this year.