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TIFF 2013: '12 Years a Slave,' 'The Square' win top audience prizes

September 15, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, left, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a scene from "12 Years A Slave."
Benedict Cumberbatch, left, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a scene from "12… (Jaap Buitendijk / Fox Searchlight )

Steve McQueen’s period race drama “12 Years A Slave” has taken home the top audience prize for a film at the Toronto International Film Festival, while Jehane Noujaim’s Egypt-set political documentary “The Square” has nabbed the documentary award.

McQueen’s film tells the true story of a free Northern man, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Eijiofor), who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South before the Civil War; it won huge critical plaudits after its premiere on Sept. 6. Fox Searchlight brings out the movie in the U.S. on Oct 18. The film emerges from the festival with significant award buzz for its actors, which also include Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, as well as for McQueen.

Noujaim won for her on-the-ground account of the Egyptian revolution and its aftermath, which puts the viewer in the heart of the dramatic and often violent goings-on in Cairo over the past several years. A version of the movie played the Sundance Film Festival this year; Noujaim followed new developments and cut a substantially different film that premiered at Toronto. The movie is seeking distribution in the U.S.

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Audience members voted Stephen Frears’ “Philomena” and Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” as the first and second runners-up, respectively, on the narrative side. Frears examines religious and mystery themes in the context of a buddy movie, while “Prisoners” is a revenge thriller that looks at a kidnapping in a small Pennsylvania town.

On the doc side, Alanis Obomsawin’s “Hi-Ho Mistahey!” and Leanne Pooley’s “Beyond the Edge” were first and second runners-up, respectively.

Sion Sono’s “Why Don't You Play in Hell?,” a Japanese-language film with Tarantino overtones, took home top audience honors in the Midnight Madness section of TIFF.

The prizes, known as the Blackberry People’s Choice awards, tallies votes from TIFF audience members. There are no major jury prizes at TIFF.

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The festival also announced Alan Zweig's comedy doc "When Jews Were Funny" as the winner of its City of Toronto/Canada Goose award as top Canadian film, as well as a group of smaller prizes.

TIFF is considered an important launching pad for fall films, and an audience prize can spur a movie to box-office and award-season success. Last year David O. Russell’s mental-illness dramedy “Silver Linings Playbook” began its successful run by winning the top audience prize in Toronto.

TIFF wraps up its 11-day run Sunday.


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