As the Toronto International Film festival (TIFF) in Canada concluded on Monday, two feature films made this year emerged as prominent winners: “Jackie” from Chile and “La la land” from the USA.
The most important award of the festival—the Platform award for direction—went to Chilean director Pablo Larrain for his feature film “Jackie” about Jacqueline Onassis, the widow of the assassinated US President John F Kennedy—concentrating on the days preceding the assassination and those immediately after the traumatic event. Playing Jacqueline is the prominent Hollywood actress, Natalie Portman.
The Platform award was chosen by a jury of three distinguished international film personalities from amongst the films competing at the festival. This jury comprised of US film director Brian De Palma (Scarface; The Untouchables), the distinguished Chadian film director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (A Screaming Man) and the Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The compact yet the distinguished jury of the Toronto festival is quite a contrast to the larger 8 to 9 member juries of the three bigger international film festivals of Cannes, Venice, and Berlin.
While announcing the award for director Larrain, the Toronto jury revealed, “Our decision was unanimous. We found one film that combined an extraordinary script with precise direction and unforgettable acting. For its exploration of the myth of the American Camelot and its preeminent performance by Natalie Portman, the 2016 prize goes to Jackie” The Toronto jury, unlike other juries of other festivals, is mandated to pick just one winner in a single category. There are no separate awards for acting, cinematography or screenplay from the jury. However, the Toronto jury made a special mention of another director, young Khyentse Norbu, whose Bhutanese feature film “Hema Hema: Sing me a song while I wait” used masks as an effective medium “to reconnect its characters with human instinct and emotion.”
Unlike other major festivals, the Toronto festival extends considerable importance to People’s Choice Awards—a euphemism for audience awards. The top award in this category at Toronto this year went to the US film “La la land” a tale of a dedicated jazz musician (played by Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (played by Emma Stone) in Los Angeles, USA, directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash). These awards at Toronto are significant in many ways than are obvious.
The most prestigious Toronto award has gone to the director of Jackie, a film that is American in content and shot in the USA but directed by a Chilean who had no Hollywood credentials and had previously made some very distinctively Chilean films, such as The Club, winning international and national recognition. The film Jackie had picked up a major award recently at the Venice film festival in Italy for its screenplay by the American scriptwriter Noah Oppenheim. The double dose of international critical appreciation for Jackie at Venice and Toronto ought to definitely translate into Oscars and higher public interest when the film is released.
Often a jury’s special mention for a film is not very significant. However, when it is an avant-garde film from Bhutan, a country not often associated with major works of cinema, one sits up. The unusual use of masks in the movie and the publicity of the Toronto honour will make “Hema Hema: Sing me a song while I wait” a film of considerable consequence, specifically for the career of its young director Khyentse Norbu. Norbu is an alumnus of Sakya College, Rajpur, in Uttarakhand, and of the University of London.
The audience win for “La la land” at Toronto, on the heels of a major recognition at the recent Venice film festival, where it won the best actress award for Emma Stone, catapults that film into the Oscar spotlight in the days to come as well with increased box office interest. It has all the ingredients of popular taste—a musical, a love story, and popular Hollywood actors. When that popular mix gets added to the incredible talent of a 31-year-old director who wowed the world with his debut film 2015 film “Whiplash” about a young drummer and his exacting mentor, the public expectations are not unrealistic. What is more, the Oscar-winning actor of “Whiplash,” J K Simmons, also has a major role in “La la land.”
Toronto has given a huge boost to these three films by highlighting them from among the 400 odd handpicked films that got screened at the event. It will be interesting to see how the film-going public will react when these three critically lauded films are released worldwide.