Hanging Garden gains spotlight
By BRUCE KIRKLAND
To thunderous applause, a small Halifax film, The Hanging Garden, burst into the spotlight yesterday by winning the Air Canada People's Choice Award at the Toronto film festival.
Director Thom Fitzgerald looked stunned as he wrested the prestigious award -- a popularity contest in which the public votes -- away from several of Hollywood's heavy hitters.
Curtis Hanson's funny film noir L.A. Confidential took second place and Lee Tamahori's thriller The Edge was third.
This is the first time that an English-Canadian film has won this prize in the festival's 22-year history and only the second time, after Montrealer Denys Arcand's The Decline Of The American Empire, that any Canadian film was the people's choice.
"Gosh, are we happy," the U.S.-born, Nova Scotia-based Fitzgerald bubbled. "This is amazing. I guess people understand me!"
Fitzgerald's carefully constructed family drama, which explores the dark, dirty and sometimes funny secrets of a dysfunctional family, also shared the Toronto-CITY Award for Best Canadian Feature Film with Toronto filmmaker Atom Egoyan's acclaimed The Sweet Hereafter. Each director takes home half of the $25,000 prize that goes with this award.
"Oh my goodness," first-time filmmaker Fitzgerald said about this award after hugging Egoyan while more than 1,500 media, fest officials and industry players cheered them on.
"I am, of course, deeply honored to be sharing the podium with one of my heroes."
The Toronto launch of The Hanging Garden has been an adventure for Fitzgerald, 29. "If you think seven years in Tibet can change your life, you should try 10 days in Toronto!"
For his part, Egoyan enthused on Fitzgerald's behalf and then used his speech to attack the Mike Harris government for cutbacks on the Ontario Arts Council. Egoyan, who has now won the Toronto-CITY Award four times, said, "My career could not have happened without the arts councils. We must be careful not to erode what has been so carefully built up."
Another award, the first-ever CITY-TV Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film, went to Toronto filmmaker Vincenzo Natali for his debut, Cube, a production backed by the Canadian Film Centre. This announcement was also greeted by wild applause. Natali gets $15,000 in cash and instant recognition.
"I am truly shocked," Natali said, "and I'd just like to say I'd like to designate this prize money to Atom Egoyan -- just kidding!"
Natali was joking about Egoyan's history of giving away prize money to other deserving young filmmakers. Yesterday, everybody kept what was given to them.
The Metro Media Award, an international critics prize voted on by 740 media, ended in a tie with Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights and Hanson's L.A. Confidential sharing the honors. Second place went to David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner and third to Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter.
The Rothmans World Film International Critics Award, a separate critics jury prize confined to the Discovery Program, went to Carine Adler's Under The Skin.
The NFB/John Spotton Award for Best Canadian Short Film went to Roshell Bissett's Cotton Candy. It comes with $2,500 in cash and the same amount in future film services. A special citation went to Brian Nash's bp -- Pushing The Boundaries.
Later, Egoyan congratulated other winners and said that the festival's success means "that we are the toast of the international film world. It's a testament that we can have a showcase of culture without having to have a cult of celebrity."