It was an old-fashioned Canuck hat trick for the top prizes at the close of the 32nd Toronto International Film Festival.
Toronto director David Cronenberg took the Cadillac People's Choice Award, voted by festival attendees, for Eastern Promises, a thriller about a Russian mob family in London. The first runner-up for People's Choice is also Canadian: Montreal-born Jason Reitman for his comedy Juno. The second runner-up is Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro's Iraq War statement Body Of War.
Prairie prophet Guy Maddin was a popular choice for the The Toronto-City Award for best Canadian feature film, for his personal documentary My Winnipeg, a madhouse meditation on his hometown.
The Citytv Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film went to Montreal's Stéphane Lafleur for Continental, Un Film Sans Fusil, a drama of intersecting lives.
Other awards yesterday were:
Best Canadian Short Film: Chris Chong Chan Fui's Pool.
Artistic Innovation Award: Anahí Berneri's Encarnación.
International Critics (Fipresci Prize): Rodrigo Plá's La Zona.
For a festival that relies so much on that elusive energy called "buzz" – because there's no formal competition to focus attention – it was almost alarming how this year's TIFF seemed so free of consensus hive activity.
Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Too often, buzz turns out to be just another word for "hype."
There were many films that people liked at the fest. The Cannes holdovers No Country for Old Men, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days all had their enthusiastic supporters, but mainly they were the same people who swooned for them on the Riviera in May.
Of the Cannes contenders, only the Joy Division drama Control seemed to generate new buzz in Toronto, possibly because TIFF programmers had the smarts to include the documentary Joy Division as the yin to its yang. The Weinstein Co. has smartly snapped up both films for what is widely assumed – and hoped – will be some kind of tandem theatrical release or double DVD celebrating this hugely influential rock band.
Films that were expected to cause a stir at TIFF due to their "shocking" sexual content, and here I'm thinking of Ang Lee's Lust, Caution, Alan Ball's Nothing Is Private and Martin Gero's Canuck entry Young People F------, came and went without Toronto peasants storming the barricades or burning effigies of TIFF chieftains Piers Handling and Noah Cowan. All three films had their supporters and detractors, who managed to keep their knickers unknotted.
Films that seemed like problems coming in, because of delays in shootings and reports of studio meddling and director tantrums, launched here relatively unscathed, and even found appreciative audiences. In this category I'm putting The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Across the Universe.
And, speaking of tantrums, who'd have guessed that Sean Penn wouldn't have one over his nicotine habit? He butted out his cigarettes at the press conference for his well-received drama Into the Wild, just because the Ontario government told him to. Wonder if he'd have obeyed the same directive from George W. Bush?
The two most talked about comedies at TIFF 2007, if that's the right way to categorize them, were both sophomore efforts by promising directors: Jason Reitman's Juno and Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding, seemed to polarize critics and public alike. One man's masterful life insights is another man's bitter misogyny.
But nobody divided TIFF goers, at least the ones I spoke with, quite like Todd Haynes and his multi-personality Bob Dylan dissection I'm Not There. After viewing it, you were either Mr. Jones, wondering what it is that's happening here, or you were declaring that everybody must get stoned. I had written before the fest how much I enjoy debating with fellow film lovers at festivals, and I had plenty of opportunity to do just that over this movie. I've been persuaded to give I'm Not There a second chance to impress me, and I'm going to do just that.
I had similar debates concerning Brian De Palma's Redacted, the film that affected me most deeply at the fest. There were many Iraq War inquiries here, but De Palma's recreation of found footage to unmask an atrocity raises questions not only about the war, but about how we perceive the truth of it – and also whether we've become inured to violence.
So was there any single film at TIFF 2007 that earned universal praise and set the colony vibrating?
Well, if you insist, I'd argue that Sidney Lumet's masterful drama Before the Devil Knows You're Dead just may have launched itself as a major Oscar contender here. It's that good, everybody I spoke with loved it and you should put it on your fall must-see list.
But it's our little secret, okay? It seems almost unseemly to be talking so enthusiastically about a film at the close of a festival that was so blessedly free of buzz and botheration.