Denis Villeneuve wins top prize from T.O. film critics
Denis Villeneuve accepts the Award for Achievement in Direction for the film 'Polytechnique' which went on to win Best Motion Picture at the 30th annual Genie Awards on Monday, April 12, 2010. (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, January 13, 2011 7:42AM EST
TORONTO - Denis Villeneuve's searing family drama about twin siblings who discover a horrible truth about their war-torn past has been named Canada's best feature, marking the second time in a row the Quebec director has topped the Toronto Film Critics Association's list of favourites.
Montreal actor Jay Baruchel presented Villeneuve with the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award at a gala dinner in downtown Toronto on Wednesday.
Association president and Maclean's film critic Brian Johnson said the 43-year-old auteur just gets stronger with each project.
"He raises the bar higher each time out," Johnson said at the bash, where directors Atom Egoyan and Don McKellar and actresses Alison Pill and Lisa Ray were among 170 guests seated for dinner.
"This year he went to Jordan and shot an incredible story about the uncontainable nature of war and how it spills out through families into the future, down through generations. It could have been a lurid melodrama but in his hands it's an incredibly elegant and moving tragedy."
Villeneuve won the top prize last year for "Polytechnique," a haunting, black-and-white account of 1989's Montreal massacre.
"Incendies" beat out the sci-fi horror film, "Splice," directed by Vincenzo Natali, and the rock'n'roll drama, "Trigger," directed by Bruce McDonald.
Villeneuve claims a $15,000 cash prize and yet another accolade for his wrenching tale, based on Wajdi Mouawad's play of the same name.
"Incendies" picked up the best Canadian film prize at the Toronto International Film Festival last September and is Canada's official submission for nomination in the best foreign language film category at the Oscars.
Villeneuve said he has always felt embraced by Toronto, describing the city as beloved relatives he only sees during the holidays.
"Tonight it's Christmas," Villeneuve said before learning he had won, calling it an honour just to be nominated.
"It's about recognition because film critics are the toughest (audience) in the world and when they give you a hug like this, when they say you did a good job, as a filmmaker it always goes straight to the heart."
"Incendies" spans several decades and is largely set during Lebanon's civil war.
Johnson predicted it would have broader appeal than "Polytechnique."
"(Villeneuve) is one of the most accomplished directors in the country at the moment and I think he's also kind of a natural successor to Denys Arcand as a Quebec director who's going to receive serious international attention and is making films that are beautifully crafted and have something to say."
The awards bash also presented Toronto writer/director Daniel Cockburn with the $5,000 Jay Scott Prize for emerging talent for his debut, "You Are Here."
"I'm not going to have to worry about rent for the next couple of months whereas I might have previously," Cockburn said of the financial windfall, presented to him by McKellar, whose late wife Tracy Wright starred in the film.
"Cash prizes mean a lot to independent filmmakers because we're certainly not billionaires off of the movies that we're making. Not yet, anyway."
Cockburn said the award brings much needed attention to his challenging experimental film, which he acknowledged was far from a commercial venture.
"It's a real head movie. It's entertaining but it's kind of a brain-bender and so it's really helpful to have a lot of great press," he said.
David Cadiz received the Deluxe student film prize, which awards $3,000 in post-production services.
Meanwhile, McDonald received a special citation for an especially prolific 2010.
McDonald directed four films last year -- "This Movie Is Broken," "Trigger," "Hard Core Logo 2" and the documentary "Music from the Big House."