NEWS
09/18/2016 15:49 EDT | Updated 09/19/2017 01:12 EDT

La La Land sings and dances its way to TIFF's People's Choice Award

The people have spoken at TIFF — and it turns out they still love a good 'ole song and dance, with the modern day movie musical La La Land taking the Toronto International Film Festival's top prize.

Director Damien Chazelle's La La Land, which reteams actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, nabbed the 2016 People's Choice Award for best feature film on Sunday, the final day of the festival.

Seen as an important barometer for the Oscars, TIFF's audience-chosen honour has previously vaulted movies such as Room, 12 Years a Slave, Slumdog Millionaire and The King's Speech to awards-season glory.

"Getting to even make this movie was a dream come true, and to see it connect with Toronto audiences in this way is deeply gratifying," director Chazelle, who was not present at the awards ceremony in Toronto on Sunday, said in a statement read by Mark Sloan of eOne Canada, the film's Canadian distributor.

"I wanted this film to speak to the way that even the most far-fetched dream can guide us. Everything about this moment feels surreal... Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Set in Los Angeles, La La Land follows an aspiring actress (Stone) and a talented jazz pianist (Canadian actor Gosling) who fall in love as they navigate the world of show business. The pair were previously seen together in films such as Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad. 

La La Land is slated to open for wide release in December. The festival will host a free screening of the musical at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall at 6 p.m. Sunday (with tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis as of 4 p.m.)

Unanimous praise for Jackie

Another TIFF buzz film — Jackie — which revisits the days following John F. Kennedy's assassination through the eyes of the former U.S. president's poised, conflicted and shockingly widowed First Lady — also earned a significant honour.

The impressive film by Chilean director Pablo Larrain won TIFF's Platform Prize, a fledgling, juried honour designed to champion artistic filmmaking which is now in its second year.

"Our decision was unanimous. We found one film that combined an extraordinary script with precise direction and unforgettable acting," Chinese actress and Platform juror Zhang Ziyi said at the awards ceremony.

She hailed the film's "exploration of the myth of American Camelot and preeminent performance by Natalie Portman."

Fresh viewpoints

Other TIFF People's Choice winners included best documentary recipient I am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck and Midnight Madness recipient Free Fire, directed by Ben Wheatley.

Diverse stories, typically unheard voices and debut or emerging filmmakers also figured heavily among the directors honoured by TIFF.

Other winners included: 

- Best Canadian short film: Mutants, directed by Trois-Rivières, Que.'s Alexandre Dostie. 

- Best short film: Imago, directed by Raymund Ribay Gutierrez (Philippines).

- Best Canadian first feature film: Old Stone, directed by Toronto's Johnny Ma.

- Best Canadian feature film: Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves, directed by Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie of Quebec.

- International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) discovery award: Kati Kati, directed by Mbithi Masya (Kenya).

- FIPRESCI special presentations award: I Am Not Madame Bovary, directed by Feng Xiaogang (China).

- NETPAC award: In Between, directed by Maysaloun Hamoud (Israel).

- Discovery program filmmakers award: Jeffrey, directed by Yanillys Perez (Dominican Republic).

TIFF 2016 drew 497,000 attendees, according to TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey, who along with festival president Piers Handling, noted that the 42nd edition event will take place Sept. 7-17, 2017.