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'Bella' wins top Toronto Film Festival award

Written by: Staff
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TORONTO, Sep 17 (Reuters) ''Bella,'' a romantic drama by Mexican director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, won the top award at the Toronto Film Festival, while the contentious ''Death of a President'' took home a critics' prize.

''Bella,'' which tells the story of two people whose lives converge and turn upside down on a single day in New York, won the People's Choice Awardyesterday, voted on by moviegoers at the Septemer. 7-16 event, seen as the kickoff to Hollywood's Oscar season.

The prize is often an indicator of future Academy Award nominations, with past recipients including best picture winners ''American Beauty,'' ''Life is Beautiful'' and ''Chariots of Fire.'' Last year's winner, ''Tsotsi,'' won an Oscar for best foreign-language film.

The US-produced film edged out Patrice Leconte's ''Mon meilleur ami'' and the politically charged ''Dixie Chicks: Shut up and Sing'' for the award.

''Death of a President,'' which stirred controversy in the days ahead of the festival, took home the Fipresci prize, which is chosen by international critics. The film, a fictional documentary showing the assassination of US President George W Bush, was noted by the jury ''for the audacity with which it distorts reality to reveal a larger truth.'' Accepting the award, British director Gabriel Range said he was encouraged the film had recently signed a US distribution deal. ''I hope that's proof that people can see beyond the premise and see that it's a film about this post 9/11 world we live in,'' he said at a ceremony.

The Diesel Discovery Award, voted on by the hundreds of journalists which attend the festival, went to the Norwegian production ''Reprise,'' directed by Joachim Trier.

Canadian film prizes went to ''Sur la trace D'Igor Rizzi,'' ''Manufactured Landscapes,'' and the short film ''Les Jours.'' An award for cultural innovation went to ''Takva - A Man's Fear of God,'' a joint Turkish-German production.

'AMAZING GRACE' TO CLOSE FESTIVAL The festival featured both high-profile disappointments and surprising favorites as it screened 352 films over 10 days.

Early buzz surrounded films such as the Sean Penn political drama ''All the King's Men'' and the Ridley Scott-directed romantic comedy ''A Good Year,'' starring Russell Crowe.

Reception for those films ranged from lukewarm to cold, as audiences and critics instead embraced films such as ''Little Children,'' featuring Kate Winslet as an unhappy stay-at-home mom, and ''Venus,'' starring Peter O'Toole as an aging actor with an eye for younger women.

For many, the main business of the festival was securing distribution rights, and films such as ''Death of a President,'' the Werner Herzog-directed ''Rescue Dawn'' and ''Away From Her,'' the debut feature by Sarah Polley, scored deals.

The biggest deal of the festival was for the Jennifer Lopez-produced biopic ''El Cantante,'' whose North American distribution rights were acquired on Friday by arthouse distributor Picturehouse for just under 6 million dollars.

The festival will take its bow later yesterday with the world premier of Michael Apted's ''Amazing Grace,'' an historical drama of British parliamentarian William Wilberforce's fight to abolish the slave trade in the late 18th century.

Apted, best known for films such as ''Coal Miner's Daughter'' and the groundbreaking ''7 Up'' documentary series, said he was drawn to the story of Wilberforce as an example of political debate that was able to effect change.

''In a gentle way, this is an attempt to kind of try and restore a little faith in political action,'' Apted, 65, told Reuters in an interview.

REUTERS AKJ PM0842

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