Slumdog Millionaire, a tribute to Mumbai and a story about a dream, won the top award at the Toronto Film Festival on Saturday, ending a low-key event where many studios kept their best movies away.
The winning film, directed by Britain's Danny Boyle, opens in US theaters on November 28. It tells of a teenager from the Indian slums who wins a chance of becoming a millionaire in a television game show.
The film received an enthusiastic reception from the Toronto audience, and actress Freida Pinto accepted the Cadillac People's Choice Award on Boyle's behalf.
"There are a lot of firsts for me in this," she said. "It's my first premiere, my first time dealing with the press, and now it's my first award.
"Slumdog Millionaire is a film about an underdog who believes in something."
The Toronto festival, where the top award is chosen by the public rather than by industry experts or other insiders, opened on September 4 with Passchendaele, a romance set partly in the mud-filled trenches of World War One.
It closes on Saturday with a gala performance of Stone of Destiny, the story of Scottish nationalists who seek to reclaim the Stone of Scone from London's Westminster Abbey.
But critics were underwhelmed with many of the movies on offer, and Hollywood was clearly holding some of its top Oscar contenders back for later in the year.
"It was a difficult year," film festival chief executive Piers Handling told the final reception. "People felt that some of the films they took up last fall did not perform that well, so there was a sense of slight gloom and depression."
Other winners at the end of the festival included "Hunger," about IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, and "Disgrace," a father-daughter story based on the bleak Booker prize-winning novel from South African writer JM Coetzee.
The top prize at last year's festival was won by Russian mob movie "Eastern Promises," which went on to win a best actor Oscar nomination for Viggo Mortensen.