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Michelle Latimer wins twice at TIFF awards, 'Nomadland' grabs people's choice


TORONTO — Chloe Zhao's poetic drama "Nomadland" is riding high after being voted the People's Choice Award winner at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, while Canadian filmmaker Michelle Latimer picked up two prizes for her documentary "Inconvenient Indian."

The TIFF awards closed the curtain on 10 days of cinematic celebration that unfolded in historic times as the pandemic left the winning filmmakers largely isolated at home to mark the occasion.

But the distance didn't sour the moment for Latimer, who said she openly wept after learning her powerful reflection on the colonization of Indigenous peoples in North America won the People's Choice Documentary Award and the Amplify Voices Award for best Canadian feature film.

One of the first people Latimer contacted was Mohawk filmmaker Tracey Deer, whose Oka Crisis-set drama "Beans" was also applauded by the festival. She said they shared the joy of their mutual recognition together, and reflected on the hope it could present for future Indigenous filmmakers.

"Would you ever think this would've happened in our lifetime?" she recalled asking Deer in a text message.

Latimer paused to wipe away more tears as she remembered the conversation.

"I'm just in shock," she added. "The idea that, maybe, going forward other stories like this can be told, or other people could come up behind us, that's an amazing thing."

The Metis/Algonquin director, who also premiered her upcoming CBC series "Trickster" at the festival, said she plans to split the $10,000 cash prize for the Amplify Voices award evenly between five emerging Indigenous artists in the fall.

A number of other female filmmakers were chosen for the festival's prizes as well.

Zhao's "Nomadland," a recession-era road trip drama, pulled in the People's Choice prize, which is often a harbinger of golden statuettes at the Oscars. The film centres on Frances McDormand who plays a lone woman travelling the American West in her van, as she faces the fallout from the economic crisis and the loss of her husband.

A quiet and pensive film, Zhao blends a small number of familiar actors, including McDormand and David Strathairn, with a handful of non-professionals to create a sense of realism that blurs the lines between fiction and documentary.

"Nomadland" beat out Regina King's directorial debut "One Night in Miami," which reimagines a real-life 1964 meeting between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown. Her film was the first runner-up.

Deer's coming-of-age drama "Beans" was the second runner-up.

"Nomadland" is already a favourite with critics, and picked up the Golden Lion for best film at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month.

In the past decade, every People's Choice winner has secured a best picture nomination and a handful have gone on to win, including "Green Book," "12 Years a Slave" and "The King's Speech." Last year, "Jojo Rabbit" won the TIFF prize before scoring six Academy Awards nominations.

"Nomadland" will have a much longer road to Oscar than usual. The 2021 awards ceremony has been pushed from next February into late April as the film industry grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The film could prove as resilient as its main character, though, and TIFF co-head Cameron Bailey praised Zhao's work for portraying "who we are and where we are right now" at this point in history.

"It's a part of the U.S. that we don't see that often — people who are living without homes, travelling up and down the country, taking work where they can," Bailey said.

McDormand is already a darling of the TIFF festival crowd, having starred in the 2017 People's Choice winner "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," which won her a best actress Oscar.

The TIFF People's Choice honour usually carries a $15,000 award, but there is no cash prize attached this year after its previous sponsor Grolsch decided not to participate in the festival.

Latimer's "Inconvenient Indian" was joined by two other winners for the Amplify Voices awards, which recognize feature films by under-represented filmmakers. Chaitanya Tamhane's "The Disciple" and Philippe Lacote's "Night of the Kings" also received $10,000 each.

"Shadow in the Cloud," an unhinged thriller directed by Roseanne Liang, picked up the People's Choice Midnight Madness Award. The film centres on Chloe Grace Moretz as a Second World War pilot transporting a top-secret package while being haunted by a monstrous vision.

The 2020 Changemaker Award, which is given to a film that addresses issues of social change and carries a $10,000 prize, went to "Black Bodies," a short film by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2020.

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David Friend, The Canadian Press