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The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has a reputation for being widely accessible to the public. The annual mid-September festival is considered a great place for films to test the upcoming fall film season waters, while also getting geared up for awards season.

Every year when TIFF comes to a close, winners of the People’s Choice Awards are announced. The award is given to the film chosen by festival-goers. In recent years, the films that have won this award have gone on to be nominated for and win major honours at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, as well as here at home with the Genies.

Silver Linings Playbook, which took the award last year won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actress. It also won the award for Best Original Screenplay at the BAFTAs. Other previous winners like The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire cleaned up at the Oscars and BAFTAs. The former won four Oscars, with latter winning seven. They both took home seven BAFTAs in their respective years. Winners even as far back as 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and 1999’s American Beauty have had great runs and each winning a handful of major cinematic honours.

So what does it mean for a film to win the TIFF People’s Choice Award? It can be a great indication that a film, the actors, and production team could have a stellar year when the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and other cinematic honours come around. Films that win the People’s Choice Award have, at least in the last decade or so, gone into the Oscars and Golden Globes with a lot of public and media interest.

For example the 2010 winner, The King’s Speech, and last year’s winner, Silver Linings Playbook, both went into the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards with not just a lot of interest, but high expectations from the media and public. Both of these films were some of the most talked about in their respective years. Slumdog Millionaire had a very large media following after it showed at TIFF.

The same can be said for many of the previous winners: Precious, Amélie, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A lot of the interest in these films seems to have started at TIFF and grew as the awards drew closer. Toronto audiences not only have a great eye for films, but their interest in a film speaks volumes to the media and general viewing population.

Unlike many of the other major festivals, movie-goers decide which film wins TIFF’s highest honour. The Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Golden Lion at Venice are picked by a jury of highly-esteemed critics, journalists, and filmmakers. Like the winners at TIFF, those films typically go into the awards season with a lot of buzz and intrigue. The 2011 Palme d’Or winner, The Tree of Life, garnered a lot of attention at that year’s Academy Awards and was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture. Previous Gold Lion winners like 2005’s, Brokeback Mountain, and 2008’s, The Wrestler, both went on to be some of the most talked about films during the Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTAs. The former winning three Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, and four BAFTAs and the latter getting two Oscar nominations, winning two Golden Globes, and one BAFTA.

What sets the Toronto International Film Festival apart, however, is the audience participation. There are other TIFF awards that are picked by a jury of filmmakers, journalists, and critics, but the festival’s highest honour is decided by the public. In recent years, it’s become obvious that filmmakers see that Toronto audiences as tastemakers, with many films starting their fall film season runs at TIFF, or holding world premieres at the festival.

Since 2007, the Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards has been a film that premiered at TIFF. It started with the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, and has been most recently won by last year’s headliner, Argo.

Obviously winning TIFF’s most prestigious award is by no means a guarantee for winning awards further down the road, but it is a good indication of which films have the potential to do well when awards season rolls around. As well, winning over TIFF audiences can also be a a factor in the incoming awards season.

This year’s People’s Choice Award winner was announced on September 15, and was announced to 12 Years a Slave. While we don’t know how this film will do at awards season, what we can tell is that TIFF audiences have a huge voice. Poised right before the fall season of prestige openings, the evidence has shown that whichever film wins TIFF’s highest honour will definitely go on to be a contender at the Oscars and Golden Globes.

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