Kenneth Branagh's semi-autobiographical “Belfast,” a black-and-white family drama about the Northern Ireland city during the tumult of the late 1960s, on Saturday won the Toronto International Film Festival's People's Choice Award, a telling indicator of Academy Awards chances.
The festival's top honor, voted on by festivalgoers at TIFF, is widely viewed as an Oscar harbinger. The previous nine winners have all gone on to secure a best-picture Oscar nomination, as have 13 of the last 14 People's Choice prizewinners. Those include best-picture winners “12 Years a Slave,” “Green Book" and last year's pick, Chloé Zhoe's “Nomadland.”
“Belfast,” which first premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, draws from Branagh's own childhood in Belfast. The film, which stars Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds, will be released Nov. 12 by Focus Features
The awards wrapped up a muted Toronto International Film Festival that has unspooled over the past 10 days. Usually one of the world's most massive movie showcases, this year's TIFF was a scaled-down pandemic hybrid, taking place in both socially distanced screenings and virtually online. The fall's other major festivals — in Venice; Telluride, Colorado; and New York — have opted for fully in-person editions.
But it was also a much more robust TIFF than last year's almost entirely virtual festival. The slate of about 100 feature films was down from Toronto's typical 250 movies but included many of the fall's most anticipated films — including Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi spectacle “Dune,” Jane Campion's Western melodrama “The Power of the Dog" and Pablo Larraín’s Princess Diana biopic “Spencer.” And as of Saturday, only one case of a positive COVID-19 from a festivalgoer was reported by TIFF.
Both “Dune” and “Spencer” didn't make themselves eligible for the People's Choice Award, which required both an in-person screening and availability on the festival digital portal. Normally, festival volunteers dispense ballots to moviegoers on their way out of screenings. This year, because of the pandemic, all voting was done online.
In a presentation broadcast in Canada and streamed online globally, other awards included the platform prize — an award chosen by a jury headed by actor Riz Ahmed — going to Indonesian director Kamila Andini’s “Yuni," a coming-of-age drama about a teenage girl approaching the prospect of an arranged marriage.
The festival said the closest competitors to “Belfast" in terms of votes were “The Power of the Dog” (second runner up) and Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson’s “Scarborough” (first runner up), which follows three children over the course of one school year in the Toronto neighborhood.
The People's Choice award for documentary went to E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin's “The Rescue,” a non-fiction account of the 2018 mission to rescue the trapped youth soccer team from Thailand’s Tham Luang cave.