01/11/2012 12:03 EST | Updated 03/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Toronto critics name Monsieur Lazhar best Canadian film

Monsieur Lazhar, a film about an insightful teacher who helps a classroom of Quebec children through a devastating loss, has won the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Rogers best Canadian film award.

Quebec filmmaker Philippe Falardeau was presented with the award Tuesday evening in Toronto at the TFCA’s annual gala.

His film, Canada’s entry for best foreign language film Oscar, was included in critics’ best-of-2011 lists across the country and has a slot at the Sundance Film Festival.

"When I finished the film, I thought it would go under the radar. It didn't," he told CBC News.

"I'm just sad my producers are not here to share the award with me tonight cause it's overwhelming and you want to embrace the people with whom you did the film. And I'm very excited about the fact that it's coming out in Toronto in two weeks."

Monsieur Lazhar competed for the $15,000 Canadian film award with Café de Flore, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, and A Dangerous Method, directed by David Cronenberg.

TFCA President Brian D. Johnson remarked on the quality of Montreal film-making, after Denis Villeneuve won the award last year for Incendies.

“There’s a luminous warmth to this film that rings utterly true,” he said in a press statement. “Philippe Falardeau explores dire issues with an understated touch and huge heart.”

Two other cash awards were presented by noted filmmakers Don McKellar and Bruce MacDonald.

Don McKellar presented the $5,000 2011 Deluxe Student Film Award to York University student Janice Lee for her short film faraway.

Bruce McDonald presented the Jay Scott Prize to Toronto filmmaker Ingrid Veninger (i am a good person/i am a bad person). The prize, named for a late Toronto critic who enjoyed discovering emerging talent, carries a $5,000 cash award.

The TFCA had previously named its choices for best picture (Tree of Life), as well as best actor and actress (Michael Shannon in Take Shelter and Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn).