Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast picked up the top People’s Choice honor on Saturday night at the Toronto Film Festival, which wrapped up its hybrid 46th edition amid the pandemic.
Branagh’s latest movie, an autobiographical film about the director’s childhood in Northern Ireland as the Troubles took place, was named the top audience prize winner in Toronto, which is often a barometer of future Academy Award nominations. The Belfast cast stars Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds and newcomer Jude Hill. Dornan and Balfe play a glamorous working-class couple caught up in the mayhem, with Dench and Hinds as the wry and spry grandparents.
“I am thrilled, I am humbled and I’m deeply grateful,” Branagh said in prepared remarks after his film had a world premiere in Toronto. The first runner-up for the top People’s Choice award was Scarborough, a Canadian indie directed by Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson, while the second runner-up was The Power of the Dog, by director Jane Campion and starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
The People’s Choice award for best documentary went to The Rescue from directors E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, while the top audience prize for best Midnight Madness sidebar title went to the Cannes winner Titane, by French director Julia Ducournau.
And in juried prize-giving, Indonesian director Kamila Andini won the Platform prize for the coming of age tale Yuni, the FIPRESCI prize went to Anatolian Leopard, a feature debut from Turkish director Emre Kayiş, and the NETPAC award was picked up by Costa Brava, Lebanon, a family story directed by Mounia Akl and executive produced by Jeff Skoll.
For the second year running, the 2021 audience and jury prize winners in Toronto will have an asterisk beside the honors as TIFF had a slimmed-down lineup of around 100 titles, against around 300 in pre-pandemic years. A dearth of acquisition titles and a host of fest titles with U.S. distribution already in place had the Hollywood studios and film buyers mostly absent on the ground in Toronto as most industry execs chose to work virtually as part of the event’s informal film market.
Still, Belfast, which Focus Features will release stateside on Nov. 12, will join the search for the next Oscar frontrunner out of Toronto after picking up the top audience award trophy. That will have Belfast opening in U.S. theaters during the heart of the awards season. Universal Pictures International will distribute internationally.
Previous TIFF audience award winners — including Room, La La Land, 12 Years a Slave and last year Nomadland — received a lift from the fest on their way to Academy Awards glory. As the COVID-19 delta variant loomed large over TIFF this year, the festival opted for more streaming than screening, and it had limited in-person theatrical play and virtual press conferences and industry events amid a fourth wave in Ontario for the novel coronavirus outbreak.