Toronto (Canada) (AFP) - Peter Farrelly's "Green Book," starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, won the Toronto International Film Festival audience prize on Sunday, giving it a lead in the race for Oscar glory.
The film follows a working-class Italian-American bouncer who takes a job chauffeuring an African-American classical pianist through the US South in the 1960s, because it is too dangerous to travel alone.
"I'm still reeling from the response to the film (in Toronto) so this is incredible," Farrelly said in a statement.
"This win is beyond my wildest dreams."
The film beat out Alfonso Cuaron "Roma" (second runner up) and Barry Jenkins's "If Beale Street Could Talk" (first runner up) for the festival's top prize.
Based on a true story, the film tells of Don Shirley (Ali), the well-dressed son of a Jamaican immigrant family who carries himself with the confidence of a prince, and speaks perfect English but is, according to a write-up by festival organizers, "not built for the brutal bigotry of his time."
So he hires street-fighting loud-mouthed Tony "Lip" Vallelonga (Mortensen) to accompany him on his journey, guided by the Negro Motorist Green Book to safe hotels and restaurants in the segregated South.