By William Wolf


One special aspect of the Toronto International Film Festival is that it is not structured around awards being the main thrust of the event, as is the case at Cannes, Venice and Berlin. Yet awards are given, but the stress is on the enormous number of films offered for the people of Toronto to see--there were 339 films in the 2003 festival. In fact, the People's Choice Award is given to the film that wins the hearts of those who fill out their preferences after attending a screening. That's the coveted award tied to the popular pulse.

This year the People's Choice Award, sponsored by AGF, a leading festival supporter, went to the Japanese film "Zatoichi," directed by Takeshi Kitano, the story of a blind swordsman who dispatches opponents with normal eyesight as he roves the land. The award struck a spark with me, as there was a time when Japanese films were shown regularly in New York at a special theater and I enjoyed a series of films about the blind swordsman Zatoichi.

Members of the press, who included more than 750 from international media, bestow a Discovery Award, which this year went to Aaron Woodley, a Toronto filmmaker who directed "Rhinoceros Eyes," which weds the horror genre with behind the scenes aspects of the movie industry.

The Citytv award honoring the best Canadian first feature was accorded "Love, Sex and Eating the Bones," directed by Sudz Sutherland, which examined modern relationships. That one carries a $15,000 prize. The Toronto ? City award for best Canadian feature film went to Denys Arcand's "The Barbarian Invasions," which followed up on the lives of characters form his earlier film "The Decline of the American Empire." That one carries a cash prize of $30,000.

For the past 12 years The FIPRESCI prize has been awarded by a jury of international critics belonging to the organization. This time the award went to the film "November," by Spanish director Achero Mañas, a futuristic film in which actors reminisce about their lives.

Shorts are the toughest films to market, but an award winner may have a better shot at distribution. The award for the best Canadian short film, carrying a $10,000 cash prize, was given to "Aspiration," directed by Montreal filmmaker Constant Mentzas.

The prizes were announced and bestowed at the annual awards brunch sponsored by and at Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel.

(More to come)


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