Despite the first simultaneous strikes of actors and writers since 1960 — 16 years before the first edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, or, as it was known then, the Festival of Festivals — a host of big names came out to present and receive honors on Sunday evening at the fifth annual TIFF Tribute Awards, a gala dinner fundraiser for the fest’s philanthropic efforts — and an occasional harbinger of Oscar recognition — that is held each year at Fairmont Royal York Hotel.
This year’s highest-profile Tribute Award honoree, Spike Lee, has no ties to the ongoing awards season. Lee was presented with the Ebert Director Award by TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey, filmmaker Barry Jenkins (who called Lee “one of the best filmmakers of our time” and thanked him for carrying “so much weight for so many of us [Black filmmakers] for so damn long”) and the late film critic Roger Ebert‘s widow Chaz Ebert (who noted how rare it was to be a Black woman at a film festival run by a Black man presenting an honor to a Black filmmaker).
Lee received a prolonged standing ovation and went on to acknowledge the “crucial” role that Roger Ebert played in his career. “He went to bat for me,” Lee said, when other critics — who he named — were speculating that Black audiences might riot in response to Lee’s 1989 masterpiece Do the Right Thing.
This year’s other Tribute Award honorees, however, all have films at the ongoing 48th edition of TIFF.
Actor Colman Domingo, the star the fest films Rustin (for which he has already garnered considerable best actor Oscar buzz) and Sing Sing, received a Tribute Performer Award from Clement Virgo, who directed him in the upcoming Netflix limited series The Madness and called him “an extraordinary number one, an extraordinary person and a beautiful man.” Domingo, in his acceptance speech, spoke about the importance of “service” and said, “I hope to inspire those who see this man who’s been working for 33 years in this industry.”
The other Tribute Performer Award went to the Luxembourgish-German actress Vicki Krieps, who is at the fest with The Dead Don’t Hurt and was feted by its helmer, Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen said of Krieps, “She far surpassed anything I dreamdt she might do” in that film, with “a fierce originality and a luminosity that hints at tremendous inner strength.”
This year’s Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media recipient, the legendary Oscar-winning Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, is at the fest with a narrative short he directed, Strange Way of Life. David Linde, presenting on behalf of Skoll’s Participant Media, said that working on four films with the auteur has been “one of the highlights of my life.” Almodóvar dedicated his honor to the Iranian director Ali Ahmadzadeh, who was recently prosecuted for his award-winning film Critical Zone, and added, “I’d also like to make mention of the actors on strike. I hope they find a solution for everybody involved.”
Cinematographer Łukasz Żal, who lensed fest darling The Zone of Interest, collected the Variety Artisan Award from Ethan Hawke, who called his work “staggering” and “an inspiration.” The Oscar-winning actress Patricia Arquette, who was tapped for the Share Her Journey Groundbreaker Award, is at the fest with her directorial debut Gonzo Girl, and was introduced by its stars, Willem Dafoe and Camila Morrone, the latter of whom marveled at “how many hats this incredible woman wears.”
And Shawn Levy, who is best known as the director and executive producer of Stranger Things, and is here at the fest with a feature film he directed, All the Light We Cannot See (which screened to a big standing ovation on Sunday), received the inaugural Norman Jewison Career Achievement Award, for a Canadian who has made an impact on the worldwide film industry. Taika Waititi, here at the fest with his own awards season film, Next Goal Wins (which also screened to a big standing ovation on Sunday), presented the honor.