The Rescue won the 2021 People’s Choice Award for Documentary. The award marked the second TIFF win for directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, who previously scooped the prize with 2018’s Free Solo before going on to win the Academy Award. The Rescue offered a gripping account of the 2018 Thai cave saga in which a dozen boys and their soccer coach were trapped in a labyrinthine cave at the onset of monsoon season.
Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, directed by Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner, scored the first runner-up spot in the doc rankings for the audience award. The affectionate tribute to the singer and human rights icon was among the few films that made TIFF seem like a regular affair. Warwick was among the few major stars who turned out and worked the festival, including being an honouree at TIFF’s Tribute Awards. The second runner-up place in the People’s Choice Award for Documentary went to Flee, directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen. Flee previously won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for its breathtaking animated account of a man’s escape from Afghanistan and subsequent life on the run as he confronted his sexuality and sense of rootlessness.
The overall winner for the People’s Choice Award was odds-on favourite Belfast, directed by Kenneth Branagh. The runner-up went to Scarborough, directed by Toronto’s own Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson, while Jane Campion’s Oscar-bound The Power of the Dog took the second runner-up win. Palme d’Or winner Titane proved the audience favourite in the Midnight Madness sidebar.
Other winners from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival included Ste. Anne, directed by Rhayne Vermette, which won the Canada Goose Amplify Voices Award for Best Canadian Feature. The experimental portrait of a Métis family searching for a sense of home in Winnipeg was among TIFF’s hidden gems. “Rhayne Vermette’s debut feature shows us a unique vision that makes full use of all the tools of filmmaking to lure us into its emotional topography,” remarked the jury in a statement. “Deeply personal yet inviting, Ste. Anne is true cinematic art made in a setting that’s often missing from the landscape of Canadian film.”
Scarborough received an honourable mention in the Canada Goose category, as well as a win for the Changemaker Award presented by the Shawn Mendes Foundation. The TIFF Next Wave jury called Scarborough “a film etched on [its] heart.”
Two other films received the Amplify Voices Award, which recognizes work by BIPOC and/or Canadian filmmaker at the festival: The Gravedigger’s Wife by Khadar Ayderus Ahmed and A Night of Knowing Nothing by Payal Kapadia. The latter film is an experimental essay about a young woman’s political awakening. “Payal Kapadia’s unique documentary balances the personal and political with a surprising snapshot of her home country,” noted the jury in a statement. “Shocking at times, but also sweeping in its beauty, A Night of Knowing Nothing is a first feature that already demonstrates her strong voice as a filmmaker.”
Other documentaries recognized at the festival included Nuisance Bear, directed by Jack Weisman and Gabriela Osio Vanden. The film received an honourable mention for Best Canadian Short Film. The winner of that prize was veteran Zacharias Kunuk for his stop-motion animation Angakusajaujuq – The Shaman’s Apprentice.
TIFF’s Platform Prize went to Kamila Andini’s Yuni. The film was a standout in the competitive sidebar devoted to auteur cinema with its deftly constructed portrait of women’s rights. “The jury was moved by a film that brings a fresh, intimate perspective to a coming-of-age story, marked by a subtle structure, delicate framing, and lush cinematography,” remarked the Platform jury, which included Oscar nominee Riz Ahmed. “For drawing us into a unique inner world too rarely seen on screen, the 2021 Platform Prize goes to Yuni, directed by Kamila Andini.”
The festival overall drew 4000 press and industry peers both in person and virtually. In person screenings were handled remarkably well with COVID-19 safety protocols containing the few incidents in which someone with a positive result attended an event.
TIFF will re-open the doors for TIFF Bell Lightbox in October. Theatrical screenings will include big-screen encores for festival favourites that couldn’t enjoy proper runs in Toronto during COVID-19, including Anne at 13,000 ft. and Best Picture winner Nomadland.