This year, 27 docs hailing from 14 countries screened at Real to Reel, the documentary program at the Toronto International Film Festival. While this may seem to be a relatively small number, Real to Reel programmer Sean Farnel explains that his strategy was about quality rather than quantity. ‘I think audiences are starting to catch on to the idea that we have a quality program. [As a result,] the audiences were bigger this year and the number of submissions grew.’ More than 250 films were submitted to the 2000 fest – up from around 160 the previous year.
In 1999, Real to Reel underwent a significant facelift. After screening just nine docs in 1998, last year’s program grew to 18 films and welcomed the arrival of its first programmer, Farnel. (Prior to ’99, Real to Reel films were selected by other festival programmers.)
Farnel explains that these changes reflect the festival’s strengthened commitment to non-fiction. ‘In looking at Real to Reel at the end of ’98,[festival director] Piers Handling identified it as a weakness,’ says Farnel. ‘He decided we had to get serious about [it].’
Jan Rofekamp of Montreal-based distribution company Films Transit International represented four films at this year’s event and says he was ‘quite happy’ with the new and improved program. Rofekamp explains that a Toronto screening can be instrumental in boosting a doc – providing a good platform for a future festival career, drawing the attention of international trade publications, and even opening the possibility for a theatrical release. ‘Everyone wants the next Buena Vista Social Club,’ he says. ‘Toronto is a place that can make a film like that happen.’
Farnel agrees: ‘The thing about a major festival that also plays fiction – as opposed to the specialty doc fests – is you get a different kind of audience, a crossover audience. You can really see the potential for a doc to reach a wider audience through the springboard of a major international festival.’ He adds, ‘I think that’s what we can provide – not just the audience, but also access to a different kind of industry than you get at specialty festivals, a more mainstream industry.’
TIFF 2000 favorites included Agnes Varda’s Cannes premiere Les Glaneurs et La Glaneuse. The French film, which explores the age old tradition of ‘gleaning,’ was picked up by New York-based Zeitgeist Films for a March release at New York’s Film Forum. American director Amir Bar-Lev left nary a dry eye in the theater with his funny and poignant film Fighter (Next Wave Films, U.S. sales, Films Transit, international sales) about two stubborn 70-year-old Holocaust survivors. Producer Vikram Jayanti also offered The Man Who Bought Mustique (which aired on Channel 4 during its Caribbean week), about the irrepressible and tormented Lord Glenconner, former owner of the famed isle who was forced to leave by other Mustique inhabitants.