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At the TIFF this year...

September 19, 2005 15:45 IST

Renuka JeyapalanToronto-born Renuka Jeyapalan, a biochemistry graduate who disappointed her parents by not becoming a doctor, won a top award for her 14-minute film Big Girl at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The 28-year old, considered by many experts in Canada to be a potential feature filmmaker, won the Bravo/FACT Short Cuts Canada Award for her film that explores the family politics of a nine-year-old girl, her single mother and her new boyfriend. The jury hailed Jeyapalan's film for its 'poignant portrayal of the complex issues facing single-parent families and its skillful mix of drama and comedy.'

Jeyapalan, who received $ 10,000 (Canadian) along with her prize, made one of the briefest speeches heard at the 30th  edition of the festival. 'I'm nervous,' she told the audience, 'So I want to keep this short and sweet -- like the film!'

She has been getting suggestions from friends and Canadian filmmakers to develop her script for a full length movie. Jeyapalan has pursued film studies at Ryerson, making a series of short films -- including Baggage and Sing for Your Supper -- that served as her apprenticeship for the Film Centre.

Also making waves at TIFF was the small South African film Tstoti that won the People's Choice Award. Though the film was made for less than $ 1 million, it was based on the work of internationally acclaimed playwright Athol Fugard. A gangster drama, it tells the poignant story of one man's relentless struggle to tame the brutal violence in the wake of apartheid. Directed by Gavin Hood, it closely beat a handful of films, including the father-daughter inspirational drama Dreamer starring Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning, which was produced by Ashok Amritraj. 

Several films that didn't really create a stir yet received decent reviews and warm applause, may pick up a handful of Oscar nominations: Claire Danes, for her singular performance in Shopgirl, co-produced by Amritraj and directed by Anand Tucker. Also, Gwyneth Paltrow as the troubled but brilliant daughter of a genius father in Proof.

One of the most influential film festivals in the world, TIFF showcased 335 films this year, including 256 features from 52 countries, of which 84 per cent were world, international or North American premieres. Another 67 features represent directorial bows. The festival usually sets the Oscar and Golden Globe buzz. Last year's Toronto favourite Ray went on to win major Oscars, while another Toronto hit Hotel Rwanda received a handful of nominations. The documentary Oscar winner Born In Brothels also made waves in Toronto.

Though Toronto is a non-competitive festival, unlike those in Venice, Cannes and Berlin, it still hands out a small number of jury and public-vote awards.

Photograph: Getty Images

Arthur J Pais in Toronto