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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Barbarian Invasions conquers Toronto

Globe and Mail
Sunday, Sep. 14, 2003

Toronto — A pair of veterans took the top two awards at the 28th Toronto International Film Festival's wrap-up brunch Sunday, with Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions winning the award for most popular Canadian film and Japan's Takeshi Kitano winning for most popular film for the pop-culture action movie Zatoichi.

Zatoichi is based on a character popular in Japanese films and television series: a blind, frail masseur who is really a brilliant swordsman protecting the innocent in early 19th-century Japan. Kitano — a veteran entertainer in Japan for the past 30 years, who has emerged as an important filmmaker in the past decade — was not available to accept his award.

The two runner-up films for the AGF People's Choice Award (sponsored by the AGF mutual funds company) were both Canadian documentaries. One was Ron Mann's Go Further, a travelogue with an environmental message that follows activist and actor Woody Harrelson on a lecture tour down the U.S. West Coast.

The second runner-up was The Corporation, directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, an analysis and indictment of corporate culture.

Though dissimilar in tone, both films carried the green, anti-corporate message, as did Neil Young's new experimental film, Greendale, making environmental activism one of the prominent themes of the festival.

Arcand's film, about a university professor, Rémy, dying of cancer in a Quebec hospital, earlier won acting and screenwriting awards at the Cannes International Film Festival. The globetrotting Arcand, who flew into Toronto this morning, said it felt like "ages ago" that his film launched the festival on Sept. 4.

The director has been to Paris, London and Berlin on business, arriving home in Montreal last night, where his wife and producer, Denise Robert, told him, ".'I have good news and bad news. The bad news is you have to get on a plane tomorrow morning.' I said, 'No way.' She said, 'The good news is you've won a major award in Toronto.' I said, 'Way.'."

Arcand also told the Toronto audience that, "You don't know how lucky you are," to have an event such as the Toronto film festival. The importance of the film festival as a boost to Toronto's reputation, damaged by severe acute respiratory syndrome, emerged as the major theme of the lunch, held at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Festival director Piers Handling, who wore an I Love T.O. T-shirt, said the festival's success in drawing filmmakers, celebrities and audiences underscored "the key role that arts and culture play in society as a whole" and how the festival was the "centre of the health and wealth of the city."

Toronto councillor Kyle Rae, who serves as a juror for the Citytv-sponsored awards for best Canadian film and best first Canadian film, also emphasized the debt Toronto businesses owe to the festival.

Rae gave Arcand his $30,000 award, with a citation noting that the film captured the "profound complexities of the modern world . . . reflected through the lives of its beautifully wrought characters."

Winner of the best Canadian first feature film award was director Sudz Sutherland for his raunchy comedy, Love, Sex and Eating the Bones, who accepted the $15,000 prize, with an enthusiastic "Wow." Sutherland said he had been raised as a volunteer and regular audience member at the festival, "because this is part of our lives."

The $10,000 best Canadian short film went to Montreal's Constant Mentzas for Aspiration, who should have also won a most self-deprecating Canadian award.

Mentzas, who gave the afternoon's most original speech, said he could not say he was surprised to win because he realized no other short-film directors were invited to the lunch.

He thanked the festival programmers for choosing his film because, he said, it "is really slow" and did not get many high ratings among viewers.

"I really want to thank the jury for listening to it, and not falling asleep."

The Discovery Award, which is determined by ballots from the 750 members of the media attending the festival (voting on directors early in their careers in the Discovery program), went to Toronto native director Aaron Woodley, for his U.S.-made movie Rhinoceros Eyes, about a young man Chep (Michael Pitt) who works in a prop house and starts having conversations with the props. The director dedicated his award to his mother and costume designer, Denise Cronenberg, better known as the sister and collaborator of director David Cronenberg.

Finally, the international critics' association FIRPRESCI (the International Federation of Film Critics voted unanimously to award this year's prize to Spanish director Achero Manas for November, a film, set in the future, about a group of actors who remember starting up an acting troupe that changed society by working for free. The jury praised the film for "its freshness, its original blending of fiction and documentary techniques, its humanistic message and the high quality of all the performances." Jury president Dan Fainaru said he would deliver the prize in person to the director at the San Sebastian film festival next week. ROBTv Workopolis