"The Fabelmans" earned a raucous ovation for director Steven Spielberg at its world premiere in Toronto

Spielberg’s ‘Fabelmans’ wins top prize at Toronto Film Festival

Director Steven Spielberg received a standing ovation at the world premiere of Fabelmans in Toronto – Copyright AFP/File MANDEL NGAN

Steven Spielberg’s deeply personal new film, The Fabelmans, cemented its position as the Oscar nominee on Sunday, taking home the top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Released in November, Fabelmans is a semi-autobiographical drama based on Spielberg’s childhood, following his parents’ troubled marriage, anti-Semitic bullying, and his first zero-budget filmmaking efforts with his teenage friends.

It earned a standing ovation at its world premiere last weekend at the Toronto festival known as TIFF.

“As I said on stage last night, first of all I’m glad I brought this film to Toronto,” Spielberg said in a statement Sunday.

“This is the most personal film I have ever made and the warm welcome from everyone in Toronto made my first visit to TIFF so intimate and personal to me and my entire Fabelman family.

The People’s Choice Award at North America’s largest film festival, voted for by audiences, has been something of an early Oscar leader, predicting eventual Best Picture Academy Award winners like Nomad Land in 2020.

Considered one of Hollywood’s greatest living directors, Spielberg won three Oscars: Best Picture and Best Director for Schindler’s List, and Best Director for Saving Private Ryan.

He has been nominated for 19 Oscars to date and is expected to add to that number at next year’s Academy Awards on March 12 in Los Angeles.

The last 10 winners of Toronto’s People’s Choice Awards have been nominated for Best Picture Oscars, three of which won Oscars, including Green Book, which was a surprise winner in 2019.

“12 Years a Slave” (2013), “The King’s Speech!” (2010) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) began their journey to Oscar glory with the Toronto Awards.

At its premiere this past weekend, Spielberg told an enthusiastic audience that he had long wanted to make such a deeply personal film, but was ultimately motivated by “fear” of the pandemic.

“I don’t think anyone knew in March or April 2020 what the state of affairs would be, the state of life even a year from now,” Spielberg said.

“I just felt that if I was going to leave something behind, what do I really need to decide and reveal about my mom, dad and my sisters?”

“It wasn’t now or never, but it almost felt like that,” the 75-year-old director said.

Sarah Polley’s “Women Talk” and Rian Johnson’s “Glass Bow: The Mystery of Knives” took second place in Toronto.

The main documentary prize went to the Canadian film Black Ice by Hubert Davis about historical racism in the world of professional hockey.

Known for its large crowds of cinephiles and big-name stars, the Toronto festival has been hard hit by the pandemic, but this year has seen the return of packed crowds and red carpets.

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