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Eastern Promises wins People's Choice Award at TIFF

Globe and Mail Update

Eastern Promises, a London-set thriller by director David Cronenberg, won the Cadillac People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, which closed on Saturday after screening 349 films over 10 days. The award came with a $15,000 prize.

The top Canadian award went to Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg.

Eastern Promises, which stars Viggo Mortensen as a Russian gangster and Naomi Watts as a midwife who finds an incriminating diary. Because Cronenberg was busy doing promotion for the film in New York, the award was accepted by Cronenberg's long-time distributor and colleague, Victor Loewy, who reported that Eastern Promises, which opened in limited release on Friday, was currently No. 1 in each of the multiplexes where it is playing.

The first runner-up for the People's Choice award was a film by another Canadian, Jason Reitman. His comedy, Juno, stars Ellen Page as a pregnant teenager who decides to give her baby to a yuppie couple.

The second runner-up was Body of War, a documentary by Ellen Spiro and former talk show host Phil Donahue about a year in the life of a paralyzed Iraq war veteran and political activist.

The Toronto-CITY Award jury picked Maddin's film as the best Canadian feature, which carries a $30,000 cash award. The film, described by Maddin as a “docu-fantasia”, blending silent footage and melodrama in a poetic meditation on Maddin's hometown. The jury cited My Winnipeg as a film that “within its specific, personal vision finds a universal appeal.”

In accepting the award, Maddin offered a “heartfelt thanks” to the Toronto Film Festival, with which he has been associated over his 20-year filmmaking career. He referred to the years leading up to the prize a long “mating ritual that has culminated in this moment, a consummation of sorts.” Maddin also thanked his family for “allowing me to vivisect them. I promise I won't do it again.”

Producer Jody Shapiro announced the film has three new international distribution deals (with IFC Entertainment in the United States, Soda Pictures in the United Kingdom and Maximum Films in Canada). Shapiro also made a point of thanking Michael Burns, formerly the director of programming for the Documentary Channel before its recent take-over by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Without Michael this film wouldn't have been made. It was his idea."

Shapiro said the award represented a significant first for Maddin in that it “puts him in the history books at this festival.”

The $15,000 CITY-TV prize for best Canadian first feature film went to Stephane Lafleur's Continental, Un film sans fusil (Continental, A Film without Guns), which follows four lonely characters in a mixture of absurdity and pathos. Lafleur has had three previous short film at the festival before this feature film debut. The Canadian short film prize of $10,000 went to Chris Chong Chan Fui's Pool.

Other winning films included two Mexican offerings. The Diesel Discovery Award, voted on by the 1,000 members of the international media attending the festival, went to Cochochi, from directors Israel Cardenas and Laura Amelia Guzman. The film is about two brothers who become separated when attempting to deliver a package to a faraway community.

The award from the International Critics Association (FIRPRESCI Prize) to an emerging filmmaker went to Rodrigo Pla for La Zona, a revenge drama set around a gated community in Mexico City.

The Artistic Innovation award went to another Spanish-language film, Anahi Berneri's Encarnacion, an Argentinean film about an aging actress who returns to her hometown, which was cited by the jury for its for its “critique of mainstream cinema” and issues around the “fetishization of the female body.”

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