TFCA names The Stairs best Canadian feature

Director Hugh Gibson won the $100,000 prize at a gala held Tuesday in Toronto.

Hugh Gibson’s The Stairs took home the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Rogers Best Canadian Film Award on Tuesday evening at a gala event at The Carlu in Toronto.

The award, which includes a $100,000 cash prize, was presented by Sarah Polley, who herself picked up the award in 2012 for Stories We Tell.

Gibson’s documentary, which was filmed over the course of several years and follows three recovering drug addicts in Toronto’s Moss Park neighbourhood, beat out Kazik Radwanski’s How Heavy this Hammer and Matt Johnson’s Operation Avalanche. As runners up for the award, both Radwanski and Johnson received $5,000 prizes.

Upon receiving the award, Gibson exclaimed “Poker nights will never be the same,” before thanking his fellow nominees, crew and executive producer Alan Zweig. “He did three features in the time it took me to make this one,” he said. “He kicked my ass and I’m grateful for it.”

The evening also saw Denis Villeneuve presented with the TFCA’s 20th Anniversary Award for Excellence, which recognized his three best Canadian film awards (for 2009′s Polytechnique, 2010′s Incendies and 2014′s Enemy) and his overall body of work. The award was presented by Don McKellar (who won the second-ever best Canadian film award in 1998 for Last Night). Villeneuve told the TFCA members that they were the first to encourage him as a filmmaker and, “You are not Rotten Tomatoes numbers to me.”

As previously announced, veteran filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin was awarded the Technicolor Clyde Gilmour Award, which recognizes an industry member who has contributed to the history and advancement of Canadian cinema. As part of the award, Obomsawin was able to endow one filmmaker with $50,000 in services from Technicolor Creative Services, which she presented to filmmaker Amanda Strong (Four Faces of The Moon, Mia).

Ashley McKenzie, director of Werewolf, won the $5,000 Stella Artois Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist. McKenzie’s debut feature premiered at TIFF in the Discovery program, and was named to Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival in December. McKenzie told the TFCA that she had to borrow her parents car to location scout for the film, which follows two homeless drug addicts as they try to escape their reality. Of the prize, which was presented by Atom Egoyan, McKenzie said she was “going to buy a car with this money.”

Photo (L to R:) Hugh Gibson; presenter Sarah Polley; outgoing TFCA president Brian Johnson; incoming TFCA president Peter Howell and vice-chair of Rogers Communications Phil Lind