Belfast: Kenneth Branagh’s Personal Film Wins Audience Award at Toronto Fest

Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Belfast’ Wins Audience Award

The top People’s Choice honor was unveiled on Saturday night as Branagh’s latest movie about his childhood in Northern Ireland.

Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast won the top People’s Choice honor on Saturday night at the Toronto Film Festival, which wrapped up its hybrid 46th edition amid the pandemic.

Branagh’s latest movie, an autobiographical family film about the director’s childhood in Northern Ireland in 1969 as the conflict between Catholics and Protestants gathers strength, was named the top audience prize winner in Toronto, which is often a barometer of future Academy Award nominations.

The Belfast cast stars Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds and newcomer Jude Hill.

Dornan and Balfe play a glamorous working-class couple caught up in the mayhem, with Dench and Hinds as the wry and spry grandparents.

“I am thrilled, I am humbled and I’m deeply grateful,” Branagh said in prepared remarks after his film had a world premiere in Telluride before arriving in Toronto.

The first runner-up for the top People’s Choice award was Scarborough, a Canadian indie directed by Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson.

The second runner-up was The Power of the Dog, by director Jane Campion and starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

The People’s Choice award for best documentary went to The Rescue from directors E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin,

The top audience prize for best Midnight Madness sidebar title went to the Cannes winner Titane, by French director Julia Ducournau.

Indonesian director Kamila Andini won the Platform prize for the coming of age tale Yuni.

The FIPRESCI prize went to Anatolian Leopard, a feature debut from Turkish director Emre Kayiş.

The NETPAC award was picked up by Costa BravaLebanon, a family story directed by Mounia Akl and executive produced by Jeff Skoll.

For the second year running, the 2021 audience and jury prize winners in Toronto will have an asterisk beside the honors as the gest had a slimmed-down lineup of around 100 titles, against around 300 in pre-pandemic years.

Dearth of acquisition titles and host of fest titles with U.S. distribution already in place had the Hollywood studios and film buyers mostly absent on the ground in Toronto as most industry execs chose to work virtually as part of the event’s informal  market.

Belfast, which Focus Features will release stateside on November 12, will join the search for the next Oscar frontrunner out of Toronto after picking up the top audience award trophy. That will have Belfast opening in U.S. theaters during the heart of the awards season.

Branagh’s Five Oscar Nominations

Branagh has earned five Oscar nominations, including for Henry VSwan SongHamlet and My Week with Marilyn, but has yet to win an Academy Award.

Universal Pictures will distribute Belfast internationally.

Previous audience award winners — including Room, La La Land12 Years a Slave and last year Nomadland — received a lift from the fest on their way to Academy Awards glory.

As the COVID-19 delta variant loomed large over TIFF this year, the festival opted for more streaming than screening, and it had limited in-person theatrical play and virtual press conferences and industry events amid a fourth wave in Ontario for the coronavirus outbreak.

In other prize giving, Rhayne Vermette earned the Amplify Voices Award for best Canadian feature, while the Short Cuts award for best film went to Samir Karahoda’s Displaced, and TIFF juries also gave the inaugural Changemaker Award to Scarborough.