“Zatoichi,” “Barbarians” Take Top Honors at Toronto Fest

Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano‘s Zatoichi and Denys Arcand ‘s The Barbarian Invasions took top honors at the Toronto International Film Festival, which closed Sunday after a 10-day run.

Zatoichi is based on one of the most popular characters in Japanese movies. It tells the tale of a lightning-fast master swordsman who conceals his secret identity by posing as a blind traveling masseur.

In the past, the People’s Choice award, voted on by regular moviegoers, has been an indicator of future Academy Award nominations, with past awardees including the Oscar winning films American Beauty, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Life Is Beautiful, Shine and Chariots of Fire.

The two runners-up for the People’s Choice prize were two Canadian documentaries, including Toronto director Ron Mann‘s Go Further, which follows actor Woody Harrelson and some fellow activists on what Harrelson dubbed the Simple Organic Living tour on the American West Coast. The second runner-up was the Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott-directed The Corporation, a critical look at the rise and influence of corporations.

Arcand‘s The Barbarian Invasions, meanwhile, won the award for best Canadian feature. The film, a revisiting some 15 years later of the principal characters of Arcand‘s 1986 film The Decline of the American Empire, revolves around Rémy, a former professor whose estranged wife and son, his former mistresses and old friends gather around his deathbed.

The Discovery Award, which is voted on by the press covering the event, went to Toronto director Aaron Woodley–nephew of Canadian director David Cronenberg–for his U.S. film Rhinoceros Eyes, about a reclusive young prop-house worker who prowls the streets for unusual, real-life props.

The Fipresci critics prize was awarded to Spanish director Achero ManasNovember for “its freshness, its original blending of fiction and documentary techniques, its humanistic message and the high quality of all the performances.”

The City-TV award for best Canadian first feature went to a one-time festival volunteer, Toronto director Sudz Sutherland’s Love, Sex and Eating the Bones, while the Award for Canadian short went to Montreal director Constant Mentzas’ Aspiration.

According to the Toronto Star, the festival is estimated to bring in $67 million annually to Toronto’s coffers, with millions more added by the fest’s role as the vehicle for film distribution deals.

Festival chief Piers Handling read off a list of deals at this year’s festival, including sales or pending sales. Kitano‘s Zatoichi was one of the first major acquisitions, with Miramax Films picking up North American rights, but many more acquisitions followed. Sony Pictures Classics bought the Italian film Facing Window and the Korean pic Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring, Goldwyn acquired Margarethe von Trotta‘s Holocaust drama Rosenstrasse, United Artists bought Jim Jarmusch‘s Coffee and Cigarettes, Newmarket took Danish pic The Green Butchers and IFC acquired Canadian director Guy Maddin‘s The Saddest Music in the World.

Handling joked that even Vincent Gallo‘s notoriously bad road movie The Brown Bunny found a distributor.

“Yes, we do rehabilitate films,” Handling told a roaring audience.