'Hotel Rwanda' takes top prize at the Toronto Film Festival

TORONTO -- "Hotel Rwanda," a film that left its audiences shaken with its portrait of genocide in Africa, won the People's Choice Award here Sunday as the audience favorite at the 29th Toronto International Film Festival.

The movie, directed by Terry George, stars Don Cheadle as the manager of a luxury hotel in Rwanda, who bribes, lies and deceives in a desperate effort to protect some 900 refugees who have taken shelter in his hotel. Many of them, including his wife and children, are members of the Tutsi tribe, which was targeted for extermination by the ruling Hutu tribe; some 800,000 Tutsis and others died, while a United Nations peacekeeping force stood by ineffectually.

Nick Nolte co-stars in the film as Col. Oliver, a character based on Gen. Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian UN commander who does all he can to bend the rules and save lives. The Cheadle character is based on a real man, Paul Rusesabagina, who now lives in Brussels and attended the Toronto festival.

"Hotel Rwanda" made an overwhelming impact during the festival's opening weekend, and was a favorite all week to win the People's Choice, which, at a festival without juries, is the top prize.

Also winning an important award was "Omagh," the story of families of bombing victims in Northern Ireland. It won the Discovery Award, voted on by some 800 critics and journalists who cover the festival.

FIPRESCI, the international film critics' organization, appoints its own jury at all major festivals, and awarded its best-of-the-fest award to "In My Father's Den," from New Zealand, about a war correspondent who returns home.

The City Award, given to the best Canadian film, went to Michael Dowse's "It's All Gone, Pete Tong," about a party animal. City TV and the city of Toronto donate a $30,000 prize to the award winners. The City TV $15,000 award for best first Canadian feature went to "La Peau Blanche" by Daniel Roby.

The awards wrapped up what many, me included, thought was the strongest Toronto fest in years. The award to "Hotel Rwanda," which was co-produced by a South African company, was appropriate in a year when South African films were showcased in a special section of the festival.

"Red Dust," another strong South African film, was about a hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought to discover and air the truth about crimes during the apartheid years -- to head off the kinds of festering resentments and endless reprisals that both "Hotel Rwanda" and "Omagh" were about.

Contributing: Reuters

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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