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Spielberg’s ‘The Fabelmans’ wins top prize at Toronto festival

‘The Fabelmans’ earned director Steven Spielberg a loud ovation at its world premiere in Toronto – Copyright AFP/File MANDEL NGAN

Steven Spielberg’s deeply personal new film “The Fabelmans” secured its position as an Oscar favorite on Sunday by winning the top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“The Fabelmans,” which hits theaters in November, is a semi-autobiographical drama based on Spielberg’s childhood, covering his parents’ troubled marriage, anti-Semitic bullying and his early efforts to make zero-budget films with his teenage friends.

It earned a loud standing ovation from the audience when it premiered last weekend at the Toronto festival, known as TIFF.

“As I said on stage the other night, I’m mostly glad I brought this movie to Toronto,” Spielberg said in a statement Sunday.

“It’s the most personal film I’ve made and the warm welcome from everyone in Toronto made my first visit to TIFF so intimate and personal for me and my entire ‘Fabelman’ family.”

Voted for by the public, North America’s biggest film festival’s People’s Choice Award has become something of a precursor to the Oscars, predicting the eventual winners of Best Picture Oscars such as “Nomadland” in 2020.

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

He’s been nominated for 19 Oscars so far and is set to add to that tally at next year’s Oscars on March 12 in Los Angeles.

The past 10 winners of the Toronto People’s Choice Awards have all been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, with three winning Oscars, including 2019’s surprise winner, “Green Book.”

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

At its premiere last weekend, Spielberg told an elated audience how he had long wanted to make such a deeply personal film, but was ultimately driven by “fear” of the pandemic.

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

“I just felt that if I was going to leave something behind, what was the one thing that I really needed to figure out and unpack about my mom, dad, and sisters?”

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

Toronto finalists included Sarah Polley’s ‘Women Talking’ and Rian Johnson’s ‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’.

The top documentary award went to Hubert Davis’ “Black Ice,” a Canadian film about historic racism in the world of professional ice hockey.

The Toronto festival, known for its large crowds of moviegoers and A-list stars, has been hit hard by the pandemic, but this year has seen the return of packed audiences and red carpets.