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Festival News
Spider, Whale Rider take home awards
LIAM LACEY reports on the prizes at the end of a strong festival

By LIAM LACEY, The Globe and Mail
September 16, 2002

The officially non-competitive Toronto International Film Festival came to a close yesterday, handing out a record number of prizes.

The paradox was not lost on hometown favourite David Cronenberg, whose drama Spider -- an immersion into the mind of a schizophrenic man (played by Ralph Fiennes) discovering the trauma of his childhood -- took the top Canadian feature prize.

"I've just spent a lot of the last 10 days telling journalists that the Toronto film festival doesn't have prizes, which is why it's so great. So you've just made a liar of me -- and a hypocrite too, because I'm really enjoying this," Cronenberg said in a speech.

The awards were announced at a closing brunch for the 27th Toronto International Film Festival yesterday at the Four Seasons Hotel.

In other major prizes, the AGF People's Choice Award went to New Zealand director Niki Caro's Whale Rider, which had its worldwide debut at the festival. The inspirational film tells the story of a young girl of the Whangara people in New Zealand, who decides to take on the traditional male rite of whale riding.

The runners-up were Bowling For Columbine, Michael Moore's scathing documentary about Americans' love of guns, and Gurinder Chadha's Bend It Like Beckham, a British film about a young Indian girl in England, determined to play soccer despite the disapproval of her family.

First-time Canadian filmmaker Wiebke von Carolsfeld struggled to keep her composure as she thanked her cast, scriptwriter Daniel McIvor and mentors David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Jeremy Podeswa for the success of her film, Marion Bridge: "I've never won anything before . . ." she apologized. The film won the $15,000 Citytv Award for Best Canadian First Feature.

The Volkswagen Discovery Award, voted on by the estimated 750 members of the press covering the event, went to The Magdalene Sisters, directed by Peter Mullan. The film is a provocative drama about the abuses inflicted on teenaged girls by nuns in Ireland in the 1960s. It recently won the top prize, the Golden Lion, at the Venice Film Festival.

This year's Toronto festival took place in the context of the troubled economics of the international film industry and the renewed threat of a U.S.-Iraq war. Festival director Piers Handling alluded to the anxious tone indirectly, when he referred to "relief at reaching this day."

Handling also hinted at the peculiar controversy raised by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Roger Ebert, who was mocked in the Toronto press for complaining loudly about lineups, and who retaliated with a column attacking the local media and the festival's press-screening policies. Handling promised the overcrowding will be rectified. Though the increase in accreditations was only minor, he said it appeared many distributors were sending their representatives to seven or eight screenings a day, apparently in an effort not to miss the next My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Among the films that struck distribution deals were Jet Lag, Stevie, The Magdalene Sisters, The Other Side of the Bed, Irreversible, The Man on the Train, Ken Park, Morvern Callar, Bollywood/Hollywood, The Sea, Spellbound and Together.

The Independent Film Channel Visions Award ($20,000) went to Russian Ark,Alexandr Sokurov's masterly recreation of Russian history shot as a single-take tour through the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg.

Special citations in this category were offered to Fernando Meirelles's City of God and Gus Van Sant's Gerry, a film about two men named Gerry walking on a landscape, which the jury cited for being both intimate and "metaphysical."

Ann Marie Fleming won Best Canadian Short Film ($10,000) for Blue Skies, featuring an Asian man, first weeping, then putting on his makeup, standing on a stage and singing a heartfelt version of Blues Skies. The film was dedicated to the victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy. The jury noted its "subtle, decisive and innovative way of conveying the complexity of human experience."

A special jury citation was also given to Charles Officer's Short Hymn Silent War 03.

The Fipresci Prize, presented by a jury of international critics to an emerging filmmaker, went to Les Chemins de l'oued, directed by Gael Morel (France), a film about a young man sent from France to Algeria to avoid a crime.

The jury also made special mention of Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier's Open Hearts, a profile of an unusual love triangle, created by a tragic accident.

Despite the occasionally fractious tone of the event, the overall balance of the festival was strong -- from the glitter of stars such as Michelle Pfeiffer, John Cusack and Sophia Loren, to the solid quality of the movies, with impressive international dramatic debuts such as Japon and City of God, and solid documentary entries (The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Standing in the Shadows of Motown).

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