Cord Jefferson’s 'American Fiction' wins People’s Choice at Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO — Cord Jefferson’s “American Fiction,” a satire about race and personal agency, is the winner of this year's People's Choice prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The film stars Jeffrey Wright as an African-American novelist grappling with an industry that is limiting his work to trauma and poverty narratives.

"American Fiction" was among the films honoured at a TIFF awards breakfast Sunday morning, concluding 11 days of in-person film screenings and celebrations.

The People's Choice award is determined through online voting and is frequently considered a harbinger of success at the Academy Awards.

Last year's winner was Steven Spielberg’s coming-of-age ode to cinema “The Fabelmans," which went on to earn a best picture nod at the Oscars.

The winner of best Canadian feature, which is chosen by a jury and worth $10,000, went to Sophie Dupuis’ “Solo,” about a talented performer in Montreal’s drag scene.

“With this film, we’re connecting everybody together, and I love it. I want to say thanks for this award because it will help us be seen more and help us connect with people more,” Dupuis said in her acceptance speech at the event.

"Solo" stars Théodore Pellerin as a makeup artist and drag performer who is navigating an exciting romantic relationship while also reconnecting with his estranged mother.

“With every step of this production, we confirm how important it is to make that kind of film – for queer representation, for queer people to see themselves and accept themselves and love themselves," Dupuis said.

TIFF's prestigious Platform prize, chosen by a jury for a bold directorial vision and worth $20,000, went to India’s Tarsem Singh Dhandwar and his feature "Dear Jassi" about two lovers kept apart by distance and family expectations.

Meanwhile, the People's Choice documentary award went to "Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe," a reflection on beloved children's performer Ernie Coombs directed by Robert McCallum.

Director Larry Charles' "Dicks: The Musical" was named the People’s Choice Midnight Madness winner.

Other Canadian honorees include Henri Pardo’s “Kanaval,” which follows a young boy’s journey from a small town in Haiti to Quebec. The film took home the $10,000 Amplify Voices award for best BIPOC Canadian feature.

“I’d like to salute Black and Indigenous and people of colour — we’re under-represented but we have so many wonderful stories to tell,” Montreal-based Pardo said while accepting the honour.

Best short film went to psychosexual horror “Electra” by Daria Kashcheeva, while best Canadian short was awarded to “Motherland” from writer-director Jasmin Mozaffari, which takes place during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.

The Share Her Journey award went to “Shé (Snake),” Renee Zhan’s horror comedy short about the pressures faced by a young violinist.

This year's festival lacked its usual star power due to ongoing Hollywood strikes, and on-the-circuit chatter was dominated by filmmakers and international talent urging increased pay for industry workers and protections around the use of artificial intelligence.

"This was a challenging festival — the strike of the writers and the actors in the U.S. was something that was going to affect us," TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey said in an interview.

"But the audience came out, and the filmmakers were here, and many actors were here as well. And the most important thing is that the films are well received. We saw that reflected in the awards today through films that were breakouts during our festival."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2023.

Noel Ransome, The Canadian Press