The Toronto International Film Festival announced on Saturday that Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire had won its prestigious Cadillac People's Choice Award for 2009. Directed by Lee Daniels, the film is the story of a young woman who overcomes the hardship of poverty and an abusive mother to teach herself how to read. The hugely popular US television talk-show star Oprah Winfrey had come to TIFF last week to promote the motivational film about an African-American who prevails against overwhelming odds. Precious will be released in the US on November 6 and will be shown as part of the Middle East International Film Festival's World Cinema Showcase next month.
Runners-up for the prize, an indicator of market performance and Academy Award potential, were Mao's Last Dancer, Bruce Beresford's Australian film about a ballet dancer who rises from peasant origins to success in China and then defects to the US, and Micmacs, an oddly baroque satire directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (France) of a video store worker almost killed by a stray bullet who subsequently foils a gang of international arms dealers.
Last year's Cadillac People's Choice Award was won by Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, which went on to win eight Academy Awards this spring, including the Oscar for Best Picture. It has earned $377 million (Dh1.3 billion) to date worldwide. A number of other People's Choice Award Winners have gone on to win Academy Awards. Toronto deliberately sets itself apart from other major festivals in allowing its audience to choose its major award. Since the award is determined by audience vote, a film does not need to be a world premiere to qualify. Precious premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in January.
This year's TIFF had a clutch of new films from Australia and New Zealand, which took home People's Choice honours in two brand-new categories. The People's Choice Award for a Documentary went to Topp Twins, about a duo of lesbian folk singers from New Zealand. Topp Twins edged out Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story. In the Midnight Madness category, the People's Choice prize went to the debut feature The Loved Ones, Sean Byrnes' often-comic horror fest of high school romance from Australia. The runner-up for that prize, also from Australia, was Daybreakers, Michael and Peter Spierig's vampire doomsday tale set against a collapse of the blood supply 10 years in the future.