By Roger Ebert
TORONTO, Ont.—“Eastern Promises,” David Cronenberg’s highly- praised movie about Russian gangs in London and a midwife (Naomi Watts) protecting the baby of a mother who died in her arms, won the $15,000 Cadillac Audience Award on Saturday, as the most popular film at the 32nd Toronto International Film Festival.
The first runner-up was “Juno,” Jason Reitman’s much-loved human comedy about a pregnant teenager, her parents, and the prospective adoptive parents of her child. She was played by young Ellen Page, who emerged from the festival as a leading Oscar contender. The brilliant first screenplay was by Diablo Cody, an ex- stripper from Chicago and Minneapolis.
Second runner-up up was “Body of War,” by ex-talk host Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro. A documentary about a U.S. soldier paralyzed in Iraq, who changes from gung-ho warrior to anti-war activist, it has some parallels to “Born on the Fourth of July,” about a paraplegic Vietnam veteran.
“Eastern Promises” opened Friday to some of the best reviews of the year, and is considered the most accomplished work of Cronenberg, the Canadian who is on a roll after “A History of Violence” two years ago. Compared to “The Godfather,” it stars Viggo Mortensen in another performance that seems certain to be nominated.
The Toronto festival has no official jury like Cannes. Instead, moviegoers members vote on the Audience Award, in a process adjusted to account for theater sizes. Many other awards are given by local and national groups, on their own.
The $30,000 Toronto City Award for best Canadian feature went to Guy Maddin, the unconventional Winnipeg filmmaker, for “My Winnipeg,” an impressionistic combination of the city’s history and his own life.
The $15,000 CityTV award for best first Canadian feature went to Stephane Lafleur’s “Continel, Un Film Sans Fusil,” about a man who disappears in a forest, and the four people affected by his disappearance.
The International Critic’s Prize went to Rodrigo Pia’s “La Zona.” The $10,000 Artistic Innovation Award went to Ahani Bemeri’s “Encarnation,” The $10,000 Diesel Discovery Award went to Israel Cardernas and Laura Amelia Guzman’s “Cochochi,” an adventure by two young brothers in Mexico.