TORONTO - A raw film about an abused teen named Precious won the audience choice award on the last day of the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, stoking predictions that the harrowing, Oprah Winfrey-backed tale is Oscar-bound.
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," snagged the coveted award at a luncheon that also named "Cairo Time," from Toronto director Ruba Nadda, the best Canadian feature.
The win for "Precious" follows a sensational debut earlier this year at Sundance, where the film claimed the grand jury and audience awards.
Piers Handling, co-director of the Toronto festival, said the movie's remarkable success is not unlike last year's surprise sensation, "Slumdog Millionaire."
"I think people want to see real stories about real people who are being tested in some kind of way and at the end of the day, hopefully, come out at ahead of the game," said Handling.
The film revolves around an obese ghetto teen who has been impregnated for the second time by her father, and stars Gabourey (Gabby) Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey. Tyler Perry and Winfrey serve as executive producers.
"You feel for her - she's obviously a figure of great sympathy and at the end of the day she manages to overcome them, so it's a perfect film I think to have come out of the festival," Handling said of the film's downtrodden heroine.
"As I think about it, it probably bears a lot of resemblance to last year's 'Slumdog Millionaire."'
"Slumdog Millionaire," an indie film set in the slums of Mumbai, came from virtually nowhere to claim the audience choice award in Toronto and went on to sweep the big categories at the Oscars.
The Toronto award includes a $15,000 cash prize, which was accepted on "Precious"'s behalf by Laurie May, co-president of Maple Pictures.
"So far, we're two for two," boasted May, referring to the two-time audience win.
A free screening was held later that night in Toronto. "Precious" is set to be released in Canada on Nov. 20.
Other prizes handed out Saturday included a $15,000 award for best Canadian first feature film, which went to Quebec's Alexandre Franchi for "The Wild Hunt," set in the fantasy-reality of a large role-playing game. The $10,000 award for best Canadian short film went to Pedro Pires for "Danse Macabre," which was based on a concept by Robert Lepage.
Nadda, who gets $30,000 as part of the best Canadian feature prize for "Cairo Time," said her film very nearly didn't get made.
She noted that roughly $1.5 million in funding fell through just two weeks before filming was to start in Egypt. She recalled getting the news from her producer saying the production, starring Patricia Clarkson and Tom McCamus, was dead.
"I went into shock and called him back and I was crying and I was like, 'I'm begging you, I'm begging you, I'm begging you - please figure this out," recalled Nadda, who also wrote the screenplay.
In 48 hours, they were back on track with the help of Telefilm.
"This is why I feel like I've won the lottery, I really have," said Nadda, who has made 18 films but makes her debut appearance at the fest with her tale about a married magazine editor who is tempted to have an affair.
"Cairo Time," is due for release Oct. 9.
New award categories this year included a midnight madness prize, which went to Australian Sean Byrne's horror "The Loved Ones," and a people's choice award for documentary films, which went to "The Topp Twins" from Winnipeg's Leanne Pooley, about New Zealand lesbian country-and-western singers.
The awards wrapped up 10 days of movie madness that included more than 300 projects and megastars including George Clooney, Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Penelope Cruz and Nicolas Cage.
Saturday's closing night film was "The Young Victoria" starring Emily Blunt and directed by Quebec's Jean-Marc Vallee, who helmed 2005's "C.R.A.Z.Y".