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‘Three Billboards’ wins at Toronto fest – ‘Operation Mekong’ bags China’s Golden Rooster Prize

TORONTO, Canada, Sept 18, (Agencies): Martin McDonagh’s darkly hilarious drama “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” won the Toronto Film Festival’s audience prize for best picture on Sunday, giving it a leg up in the race for the Oscars.

The rage-fueled film stars Frances McDormand as a frustrated and grieving mother, Mildred, who antagonizes police (Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell) while trying to call attention to a lack of progress in the hunt for her daughter’s killer.

Months have passed without an arrest in the murder case, so she commissions three signs with controversial messages for police along a road leading into the fictional Missouri town.

But a backlash ensues. Mildred’s friends and the freckle-faced and cocky young agent (Caleb Landry Jones) who rents her the billboard space are targeted by the chief’s intellectually and emotionally stunted deputy, in violent reprisals that cost him his badge.

Australia’s Abbie Cornish and “Game of Thrones” actor Peter Dinklage also star in the film, which is McDonagh’s third after “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths”.

In a statement, McDonagh called the win “thrilling”.

“You never really know if a story as heartfelt but also as outrageous and funny and unusual as ours is has really connected to, you know, real people”, he said.

“So it’s brilliant to hear that it has”.

In Venice, where the film premiered, the British-Irish playwright said he wrote the script specifically for McDormand based on an idea that began to germinate 20 years ago when he was traveling across America by bus.

A decade later, as he pondered a hard-to-explain billboard that had stuck in his mind — involving a mother whose daughter was raped and murdered — he began to flesh out a back story.

“Once I had decided it was a mother, the film wrote itself”, he said. “And picturing Frances in my mind helped me write it”.

Runners-up for the festival’s audience prize were Craig Gillespie’s “I, Tonya” about disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, and the coming-of-age drama “Call Me By Your Name”, directed by Luca Guadagnino.

More than 300 feature and short films from 74 countries were screened at the Toronto festival, the biggest in North America.

The event is often seen as a way for Oscar-conscious studios to generate buzz about their movies, with hundreds of filmmakers and actors walking the red carpet in Canada’s largest city.

In past years, films such as “Spotlight”, “12 Years a Slave”, and “Slumdog Millionaire” have gone on from winning the audience prize in Toronto to taking top honors at the Oscars.

Last year, the musical “La La Land” won the Toronto prize and then took home six Oscars, including best actress and best director — but not the top prize, despite the shocking mix-up with “Moonlight” at the end of the gala.

Other accolades at the Toronto festival on Sunday went to Wayne Wapeemukwa for “Luk’ Luk’l” and Robin Aubert for “Les Affame”, as well as to Huang Hsin-Yao for “The Great Buddha+” and Warwick Thornton for “Sweet Country”.

The International Federation of Film Critics awarded prizes to Sadaf Foroughi for “Ava”, about a rebellious girl in Iran who fights repression by her parents and society, and to Manuel Martin Cuenca for “The Motive” (El Autor).

Mahour Jabbari, who played the titular Ava and her co-star Shayesteh Sajadi had been denied entry into Canada to attend the festival.

Audiences also chose Joseph Kahn’s satirical look at the brutal sport of battle rapping in “Bodied” over runners-up Craig Zahler’s “Brawl in Cell Block 99” and James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” for a Midnight Madness prize.

Their pick for best documentary was “Faces Places” by Agnes Varda and street artist JR, which beat out Morgan Spurlock sequel’s “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” and “Long Time Running”, directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas De Pencier.

Winners

* Midnight Madness: Joseph Kahn’s “Bodied”

* Documentary: Agnes Varda and JR’s “Faces Places”

* International Platoform award: Warwick Thornton’s “Sweet Country”

* Fipresci awards — Discovery: Sadaf Foroughi’s “Ava”

* Special Presentations: Manuel Martin Cuenca’s “The Motive”

* NETPAC award: Huang Hsin-Yao’s “The Great Buddha+”

* Best Canadian short film: Marc-Antoine Lemire’s “Pre-Drink”

* Best short film: Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s “The Burden”

* Best Canadian first feature: Wayne Wapeemukwa’s “Luk’ Luk’l”

* Best Canadian feature: Robin Aubert’s “Les Affames”.

Also:

LOS ANGELES: Patriotic Chinese action movie, “Operation Mekong” was named best picture at China’s annual Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival. “I am not Madame Bovary” picked up three prizes, including those for director Feng Xiaogang and lead actress Fan Bingbing, according to local media reports.

The event is China’s longest running film festival and shifts location annually. This year, the ceremony was held in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia on Saturday.

Deng Chao picked up the best actor award for his role in “Dead End”. Wu Yanshu earned the best supporting actress prize for housing drama “Relocate”. The best supporting actor prize was split between Wang Qianyuan in “Saving Mr Wu” and Yu Hewei in “Madame Bovary”.

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