TORONTO – The Toronto International Film Festival concluded its 44th edition on Sunday with the people’s choice award going to the American black comedy “Jojo Rabbit,” a satirical take on Nazi-era Germany that now appears headed for a surefire Oscar nomination.
The popularity-based People’s Choice Award crowns the favorite among the audience attending the TIFF based on their votes. It is considered by many film experts to be one of the most accurate barometers when it comes to predicting which features will succeed in the following Academy Awards.
Although the award only carries a money prize of $15,000, its commercial implications are much greater.
Last year, the TIFF People’s Choice Award winner was “Green Book,” the drama directed by Peter Farrelly starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. The movie was nominated to five Oscars and won three of the coveted statuettes, including Best Movie.
The TIFF People’s Choice Award has also been awarded in the past to films such as “12 Years a Slave,” “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” all of which ended up triumphing at the Oscars and the global box office.
And even if the best TIFF movies do not end up being awarded by the Academy, they still often end up winning other prizes, such as “La La Land” or “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Choosing “Jojo Rabbit” as the best film of the TIFF’s 44th edition comes to show that Canadian viewers weren’t put off by the controversy surrounding the movie.
The film, directed by the eccentric New Zealander Taika Waititi (who was behind the 2017 Marvel superhero flick “Thor: Ragnarok”), depicts the character development throughout World War II of a young German boy whose imaginary friend is none other than Adolf Hitler himself.
Despite the festival-level success, the acidic anti-Nazi satire has been met by critics with mixed reviews.
It features Waititi himself – who plays a cartoonish Hitler caricature – as well as Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Thomasin McKenzie and Roman Griffin Davis, who skillfully inhabits the protagonist role of a 10-year-old boy slowly becoming more Hitleresque than the Führer himself.
This year’s edition of the TIFF has been dominated by the biopic genre. The festival officially ended with the teaser trailer for “Radioactive,” a film about 19th-century scientist Marie Curie directed by renowned Iranian-French illustrator Marjane Satrapi (author of the widely-acclaimed graphic novel “Persepolis”) and starring Rosamund Pike and Sam Riley in the lead roles.
Several films made their premiere at the festival, such as “Harriet” – which tells the story of the iconic American abolitionist activist Harriet Tubman – and “Honey Boy,” written by actor Shia LaBeouf and inspired by his own life.
Other movies, like “Ford v Ferrari” – a biopic about legendary engineer Carroll Shelby of the Ford Motor Company – and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” in which Tom Hanks brings the children’s television icon Fred Rogers to life, also debuted at the TIFF.
The current craze for biopics is not only sweeping across North America: Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar, for example, premiered his latest work, titled “While at War,” in which Karra Elejalde portrays Spanish literary giant Miguel de Unamuno during the last months of his life.
The other trend in this year’s TIFF has been to showcase films directed by women, such as “Radioactive” by Satrapi, “Harriet” by Kasi Lemmons and “Honey Boy” by the Israeli director Alma Har’el.
This year, 36 percent of the 333 feature-length and short films screened at the TIFF have been directed by women. Last year, the share was 35 percent. For 2020, the Canadian festival has committed to reaching perfect gender parity by having 50 percent of female directors.
These figures contrast with the presence of directors in European festivals such as Venice or Cannes.
The Spanish filmmaker Irene Moray, who has participated in this year’s edition of TIFF with the short film “Suc de Sindria,” told Efe that it was very important that festivals like the one in Toronto strive to make room for films created by women or other minorities.
“It is the future. Just as they want to include films from many countries, it is important that the greatest possible diversity is represented at festivals,” Moray said.