Where Do We Go Now?, a Lebanese film about a group of women who band together to save their community from violence, was the surprise winner of the Cadillac People's Choice at the 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival Sunday.
Beating out prominent Hollywood and European films, the feel-good drama from Nadine Labaki ( Caramel) is set up for likely Oscar contention, as the film is Lebanon's foreign film entry.
Programmer Rasha Salti, who introduced Labaki as a fellow Lebanese-Canadian, read an e-mail from the director sent from Frankfurt where she was on her way back to Beirut for the movie's Lebanese premiere Monday night. Labaki said she was "dancing all over the airport" in delight at the news. Playing with her film's title, Labaki said that, because of the supportive Toronto audiences "I know now where I'm going."
Runners up for the People's Choice were Berlin Golden Bear-winner A Separation, an Iranian family drama from director Asghar Farhadi, and Canadian Ken Scott's paternity comedy, Starbuck.
In the documentary category, the People's Choice prize went to Jon Shenk's The Island President, a portrait of the new leader of the Maldives and his fight to make global warming an international priority as his country sinks into rising seas. Runners up included Bess Kargman's ballet documentary, First Position, and Cameron Crowe's rock doc, Pearl Jam 20.
In the Midnight Madness category, the People's Choice winner was Gareth Evans's Indonesian martial arts flick The Raid, followed by Adam Wingard's horror film You're Next and Bobcat Goldthwait's violent satire, God Bless America.
The jury for the Top Canadian film (the $30,000 City of Toronto Award) chose Philippe Falardeau's Monsieur Lazhar, a drama about an Algerian refugee school teacher. "Very rarely does a film come along that does everything perfectly," said jurist Liane Balaban of the drama, which beat out such high-profile competition as David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method and Guy Maddin's Keyhole.
The best first Canadian feature (the Skyy Vodka Award, another juried prize) went to Nathan Morlando for Edwin Boyd, a portrait of the notorious Canadian bankrobber. A special mention was given to Anne Emond's Nuit #1, which the jury said "reminded us of the power of two actors with incredible chemistry, a courageous filmmaker and a dingy apartment."
The Best Canadian short film, also a juried prize, went to former nuclear scientist Ian Harnarine for his Trinidad-set Doubles with Slight Pepper, which was executive-produced by Spike Lee. Runners-up were Mathieu Tremblay's Of Events and Ryan Flowers and Lisa Pham's No Words Came Down.
As well, the International Federation of Film Critics (FIRPRESCI) gave out two awards. The prize for the best film in the Discovery program went to Avalon, Swedish filmmaker Axel Petersen's portrait of a group of hedonistic Swedes. The critics' prize for best film in the Special Presentations program went to Italian filmmaker Gianni Amelio for The First Man, based on an unfinished Albert Camus novel, which, the jurors noted, made connections between North Africa's colonial past and the current Arab spring.