For the first five days, the gathering was "near perfect," festival director Piers Handling told reporters gathered for a subdued and somber closing press conference.
But "as the incomprehensible events of September 11, 2001 unfolded, we came together globally to grieve for and comfort our neighbors, friends and colleagues and their families in America and around the world who were touched by the devastation," he said.
The normally joyous closing brunch was, like all of the festival's parties and red-carpet events, canceled. In its place, reporters and a handful of filmmakers still stranded because of U.S. flying restrictions, gathered together as the festival handed out its awards.
This was the festival's chance to inject some hope into the traumatized film community, and they came through. The awards all went to films that centered on positive themes and hope, rather than cynicism and despair.
The top prize, the AGF People's Choice Award, voted on by the audiences at the festival, went to the French film La Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain (Amelie from Montmartre). Set in Paris, the Jean-Pierre Jeunet film is the story of a waitress named Amelie who sets out to make the world a better place by doing such things as writing love letters from dead husbands to their widows and publishing a timid writer's book. A major hit in France, it was shut out at the Cannes film festival.
Liam Lacey of the Toronto Globe and Mail praised its combination of "fanciful imagery and a love story."
Toronto's People's Choice winner has been prophetic when it comes to Oscar time. The last two winners, American Beauty and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, both made a big splash at the Academy Awards.
The runners-up were two films set in India: Digvijay Singh's coming-of-age tale, Maya, and Mira Nair's romantic comedy Monsoon Wedding, which won the Golden Lion for best film at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month.
The Volkswagen Discovery Award, an award for a promising newcomer voted on by the press, went to The Chicken Rice War. Inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the film tells the story of two warring families who operate rival food-court stands.
The French film Inch'Aallah Dimanche, won the award given by the International Federation of Critics (aka the foreign press award), for its "sensitivity and fresh humor in dealing with the conditions of Third World Women, daily racism and clashes between cultures."
The Toronto-CITY Award for best Canadian feature went to Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner). The film, which won the Camera d'Or at Cannes for top first-time filmmaker, was written in the language of Canada's Arctic aboriginals, the Inuit, and used mostly Inuit actors and crew. Roger Ebert called it "an astonishing epic" that tells the ancient story "of a crime that ruptures the trust within a closely knit group, and how justice is achieved and healing begins."
The CITY-TV award for best Canadian first feature film went to Winnipeg's Sean Garrity for Inertia. The film centers on a series of relationships between people in their early 20s who are carried away by their sex drives. The jury citation said Inertia "heralds the arrival of a filmmaker of great promise."
Garrity, who attended the awards only because his plane home was delayed, said movies take "the unintelligible chaos of reality and puts it in an order that helps people make sense of what's going on around them. Maybe at times like these, even more so than others."
With the Toronto airport backlogged with stranded flights and three- and four-hour check-in delays, many Americans at the festival decided to head back to the States any way they could.
Universal Pictures chartered a bus for a nonstop trip to Hollywood. The Toronto Star reported director David Lynch was one of those aboard. He apparently brought along a camera to film the ride back.
Others opted to take the train home to New York. Like every other border entry, train crossings into the U.S. were subject to strict security as passengers were taken out, one car at a time, for border inspection.
Handling, meanwhile, says festival organizers are mulling over holding some sort of memorial in Toronto next September 11.