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Once-snubbed 'Amelie' gets last laugh at Toronto fest

TORONTO -- A film turned down by the Cannes festival has won the AGF People's Choice Award at 26th annual Toronto Film Festival, which concluded Sunday.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "Amelie of Montmartre," a dazzling comedy about a Paris waitress who interacts with the most unexpected people, was voted the most popular film.

Toronto is technically not a competitive festival, although it has given birth to all sorts of associated prizes that are announced at the closing ceremonies just as if they were official. The People's Choice, the most important award, is bestowed via balloting of the moviegoers themselves.

"Amelie" has been winning hearts ever since Cannes, where it played in the marketplace after festival officials rejected it for the main competition, sniffing that it was "not serious." Many critics said they liked it better than anything in the competition, and it has gone on to become the top-grossing film of the year in France.

The Inuit film "Atanarjuat" ("The Fast Runner"), filmed on location north of the Arctic Circle, won the City of Toronto Award as best Canadian film. Winner of the Camera d'Or at Cannes, for best first feature, it was directed by Zacharias Kunuk from a screenplay compiled from age-old legends of the arctic peoples. It's a three-hour epic, visually stunning, unmistakably authentic.

The International Critics' Prize went to Yamina Benguigui's "Inch'Allah Dimanche," a French film about Algerian men separated from their families and brought to France.

The Volkswagen Discovery Award, voted by the press corps for best first film, went to Cheek's "Chicken Rice War," from Singapore. It's a romantic comedy loosely inspired by "Romeo and Juliet," and follows feuding families in the chicken rice industry.

"Inertia" by Sean Garrity won the City TV Award for best Canadian first feature, for its story of "a tangled web of desire in Winnipeg."

The runners-up for the People's Choice Award were two Indian films by American-based directors: "Maya" by Digvijay Singh, about a girl whose carefree childhood changes dramatically with adolescence, and "Monsoon Wedding" by Mira Nair, about an extended family gathering in Bombay for a marriage.

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