Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi's Nazi Germany-set "anti-hate satire," has captured the Toronto International Film Festival's coveted People's Choice Award.
The film centres on a young German boy (Roman Griffin Davis) who dreams of being a good Nazi, aided by his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (portrayed by New Zealand filmmaker Waititi).
His world is turned upside down when he discovers a teenaged Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) being hidden in his home by his mother (Scarlett Johansson). The movie is loosely based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens.
"It's a huge honour and this is a massive deal for me," Waititi said in a video posted by TIFF organizers Sunday.
"The outpouring of love and emotion and support for the film from the audiences was just the first time I'd experienced that and it's going to stay with me forever. And now this award, it's incredible."
During the festival, Waititi defended his film against those critical of its whimsical feel and irreverent take on the waning days of the Nazi regime.
"I think, more than ever, it's vital that we [remind] people of what happened [during the Second World War]," he told CBC News.
"If that involves having to bring in fantasy characters and using magic realism and using different techniques and sometimes comedy, so be it. We have to keep telling these stories."
The People's Choice Prize is the second honour Indigenous writer-director and performer Waititi received at the festival this year.
Known for his superhero blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok, cult vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows, as well as acclaimed New Zealand films Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, he was also the recipient of the TIFF Ebert Director Award at the festival's inaugural TIFF Tribute Awards fundraising gala.
Runners-up for the top TIFF prize included Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach's modern portrait of a disintegrating relationship, and Parasite, Bong Joon-ho's upstairs-downstairs thriller that captured the Palme d'Or in Cannes.
TIFF is widely considered the unofficial start to the movie awards season, with films that win the festival's main People's Choice Award often going on to receive further kudos and acclaim. Past TIFF winners have included movies such as Green Room, La La Land, Room, 12 Years a Slave, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Slumdog Millionaire, all of which subsequently went on to major recognition at the Oscars.
Other winners announced Sunday include:
- People's Choice Documentary Award: The Cave, a portrait of a doctor operating a subterranean Syrian hospital, directed by Feras Fayyad.
- People's Choice Midnight Madness Award: dystopian prison horror film The Platform, directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia.
- Best Canadian First Feature Film ($15,000): The Twentieth Century, a surreal re-imagining of William Lyon Mackenzie King's formative years, directed by Matthew Rankin.
- Best Canadian Feature Film ($30,000): modern-day adaptation Antigone directed by Sophie Deraspe.
- Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Short Film ($10,000): Delphine, centred on a Lebanese-Canadian teen girl, directed by Chloé Robichaud.
- Short Cuts Award for Best Short Film ($10,000): tender feline tale All Cats Are Grey in the Dark, directed by Lasse Linder.
- NETPAC Award: Lebanon-set school drama 1982, directed by Oualid Mouaness.
This year, TIFF's leadership chose to change the way it presents its final awards and dispensed with its traditional final-day gathering to unveil prize-winners.
Instead, organizers split up the various honours (the first batch emerged on Thursday) and revealed the recipients via press release and social media, including posting video reactions from most of the winning filmmakers on Sunday.
Previously announced winners include:
- Toronto Platform Prize ($20,000): Martin Eden, directed by Pietro Marcello.
- International Critics' Prize (FIPRESCI), Discovery Program: Murmur, directed by Heather Young.
- International Critics' Prize (FIPRESCI), Special Presentations Program: How to Build a Girl, directed by Coky Giedroyc.
TIFF has scheduled free screenings of some of this year's winning films — including the recipients of the People's Choice Award, the People's Choice Documentary Award, the People's Choice Midnight Madness Award and the Toronto Platform Prize — at TIFF Bell Lightbox in downtown Toronto on Sunday afternoon.
Organizers also announced that the 45th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival will be held Sept.10-20, 2020.