TIFF ’12: Burns, Gibney, Zenovich lead documentary picks

TIFF has unveiled its 2012 docs line-up, with Ken Burns collaboration The Central Park Five (pictured) set to have its North American premiere in Toronto, alongside a doc from Alex Gibney looking at abuses of power in the Catholic Church.
July 31, 2012

TIFF has unveiled its 2012 docs line-up, with Ken Burns collaboration The Central Park Five (pictured) set to have its North American premiere in Toronto, alongside a doc from Alex Gibney looking at abuses of power in the Catholic Church.

Gibney’s Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God will see the Taxi to the Dark Side director investigating a cover-up “that winds its way from the row houses of Milwaukee Wisconsin through the bare ruined choirs of Ireland’s churches, all the way to the highest office of the Vatican,” according to festival production notes.

The film has its world premiere the evening of September 9. TIFF lists HBO as the international distributor and HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins as the film’s exec producer, so expect the U.S. net to host the doc’s TV premiere after the festival.

Meanwhile, Burns’ Central Park Five, which is co-directed with his daughter Sarah Burns and director David McMahon, tells the story of five black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of raping a jogger in New York’s Central Park, only to have their sentences vacated more than a decade later when another man came forward admitting to the crime.

The film had its world premiere in Cannes earlier this year, and the Toronto showing will mark its North American premiere.

Other new titles premiering in Toronto will include Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, which is exec produced by Errol Morris; Matthew Cooke’s How to Make Money Selling Drugs, which is backed by Adrian Grenier; Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers, which was yesterday picked up by Sony Pictures Classics; and Marina Zenovich’s Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out, a follow-up to the filmmaker’s 2008 doc Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

Also playing at TIFF is Reincarnated, a documentary that follows rapper Snoop Dogg as he journeys to Jamaica to record an album with Diplo.

The doc comes from Vice Films in partnership with Snoopadelic Films, and focuses on the musician as he finds himself embraced by the Jamaican people and positively impacted by Rastafarian culture.

Elsewhere, Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky is a feature doc from Barry Avrich looking at titular fallen showbiz mogul Drabinsky, who is currently serving time at a minimum security prison for fraud.

“There is great satisfaction in discovering films from new voices in non-fiction filmmaking,” said Thom Powers, TIFF’s lead programmer for documentaries.

“Some of the most powerful stories being told are from these bold and original emerging filmmakers whose work stands strongly side by side documentary filmmaking greats Alex Gibney and Ken Burns.”

Powers previously told realscreen that this year’s line-up would be notable for relying less on big-name directors and instead focusing on newer faces.

TIFF also confirmed today that Jamie Kastner’s satirical doc The Secret Disco Revolution would receive its world premiere at this year’s festival, as exclusively revealed by realscreen on July 23.

In addition, Canadian director Peter Mettler’s doc The End of Time has also been confirmed for the festival, as tipped by realscreen. The film is an exploration on the perception of time, and will play in TIFF’s ‘Masters’ section.

Check out the first trailer for Snoop Dog doc Reincarnated below:

The full list of the 30 doc premieres unveiled today, along with edited versions of descriptions provided by the festival, follows below:

9.79* (Daniel Gordon, UK – World Premiere)


Gordon’s 9.79* looks at the legacy of the 100-metre men’s final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when gold medalist Ben Johnson tested positive for anabolic steroids and scandal reigned. For the first time ever, the eight athletes who ran that infamous race tell their story.

Artifact (Bartholomew Cubbins, U.S. – World Premiere)

The band Thirty Seconds to Mars and lead singer Jared Leto fight an excruciating lawsuit with EMI while writing songs for their album This is War.

A World Not Ours (Mahdi Fleifel, UK/Lebanon/Denmark – World Premiere)

A World Not Ours is an intimate, often humorous, portrait of three generations of exile in the refugee camp of Ain El-Helweh, in southern Lebanon. Based on a wealth of personal recordings and historical footage, it is a sensitive and illuminating study of belonging, friendship and family.

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark/Norway/UK – World Premiere)

In a place where killers are celebrated as heroes, these filmmakers challenge unrepentant death-squad leaders to dramatize their role in genocide. The result is a surreal, cinematic journey, not only into the memories and imaginations of mass murderers, but also into a frighteningly banal regime of corruption and impunity. Executive produced by Errol Morris.

As if We Were Catching a Cobra (Hala Alabdalla, Syria/France – World Premiere)

Initially intended as a documentary foray into the art of caricature in Egypt and Syria, when the insurgencies break out in both countries, Syrian director Hala Alabdalla ends up drawing an electrifying, intimate, passionate film on the fearless tenacity of Arab artists fighting for freedom and justice.

Camp 14 – Total Control Zone (Marc Wiese, Germany – North American Premiere)

Camp 14 - Total Control Zone

This is the story of a man who was born and grew up in a Gulag-style North-Korean camp. After his escape at the age of 23, he discovers the “outside world” for the first time. The film relays his incredible story, as well as those of his fellow inmates and prison guards. Featuring Shin Dong-Huyk, Hyuk Kwon and Oh Yangnam.

The Central Park Five (Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns, U.S. – North American Premiere)

The Central Park Five tells the story of how five black and Latino teenagers were wrongly convicted of raping the Central Park Jogger and how rushes to judgment and public outrage contributed to that miscarriage of justice.

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story (Brad Bernstein, U.S. – North American Premiere)

Bernstein’s film depicts one man’s wild, life-long adventure of testing societal boundaries through his use of subversive art. This film combines traditional documentary storytelling with original animation from more than 70 years worth of art from the renegade children’s book author and illustrator. Featuring Tomi Ungerer, Maurice Sendak, Jules Feiffer, Steven Heller and Michael Patrick Hearn.

Fidaï (Damien Ounouri, France/Algeria/Qatar/China/Kuwait – World Premiere)

An exceedingly timely tribute of unsung everyday heroes of revolutions draws the intimate portrait of El Hadi, a 70-year-old veteran of the Algerian War of Independence, filming the unrecorded memory of years in combat, with its glories, traumas and legacy of violence.

First Comes Love (Nina Davenport, U.S. – World Premiere)

With the bracingly honest, occasionally hilarious and ultimately moving First Comes Love, Davenport examines husband-free parenthood. From hormone injections to post-natal chaos, Davenport chronicles her own pregnancy – including her conventional family’s reaction to it. She reflects upon a rapidly changing world, providing a wry and insightful play-by-play that keeps the viewer tuned in and transfixed by the topsy-turvy state of modern reproduction.

The Gatekeepers (Dror Moreh, Israel/France/Germany/Belgium – International Premiere)

Charged with overseeing Israel’s war on terror, the head of the Shin Bet – Israel’s secret service agency – is present at the crossroad of every decision made. For the first time, six former heads of the agency agree to share their insights and reflect publicly on their actions and decisions – offering an exclusive account of their experiences and attitudes during, and after, their service.

The Girl from the South (José Luis García, Argentina – International Premiere)

Filmmaker José Luis García was fascinated by a young Korean student activist he met in 1989 in North Korea. The director begins his quest to ask her how she crossed the most fortified frontier in the world and what happened to her dreams after the fall of communism.

How to Make Money Selling Drugs (Matthew Cooke, U.S. – World Premiere)

How to Make Money Selling Drugs

How To Make Money Selling Drugs offers a provocative glimpse into the lives of those on both sides of the “war on drugs,” delivering a diverse and unique perspective on the subject through interviews with 50 Cent, Eminem, The Wire producer David Simon, Arianna Huffington, Woody Harrelson, Eminem, Susan Sarandon and infamous drug kingpin “Freeway” Rick Ross.

Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp (Jorge Hinojosa, U.S. – World Premiere)

Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp examines the tumultuous life of Iceberg Slim (1918-1992) and how he reinvented himself from pimp to author of seven groundbreaking books. These books were the birth of Street Lit and explored the world of the ghetto in gritty and poetic detail and have made him a cultural icon. Interviews with Iceberg Slim, Chris Rock, Henry Rollins, Ice-T, Quincy Jones and Snoop Dogg.

London – The Modern Babylon (Julien Temple, UK – International Premiere)

London – The Modern Babylon is legendary director Julien Temple’s epic time-travelling voyage to the heart of his hometown. From musicians, writers and artists to dangerous thinkers, political radicals and – above all – ordinary people, this is the story of London’s immigrants, its bohemians and how together they changed the city forever.

Lunarcy! (Simon Ennis, Canada – World Premiere)

With wry humor and affection, Simon Ennis’ Lunarcy! follows a disparate group of dreamers and schemers who share one thing in common: they’ve all devoted their lives to the Moon. From the former ventriloquist who’s made millions selling Moon lots to the young man who’s resolved to depart for Luna (permanently), Lunarcy! is a touching and comic portrait of passion, creativity and quixotic dreams.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (Alex Gibney, U.S. – World Premiere)

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney exposes the abuse of power in the Catholic Church and a cover-up that winds its way from the row houses of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, through the bare ruined choirs of Ireland’s churches all the way to the highest office of the Vatican.

Men at Lunch (Seán Ó Cualáin, Ireland – International Premiere)

Men at Lunch

Narrated by Fionnula Flanagan, Men at Lunch reveals the remarkable untold story behind one of the most iconic images of the 20th Century, Lunch atop a Skyscraper, taken on the 69th floor of the Rockefeller Building in the autumn of 1932. Part homage, part investigation, Men at Lunch is the revealing tale of an American icon, an unprecedented race to the sky and the immigrant workers who built New York.

More than Honey (Markus Imhoof, Germany/Austria/Switzerland – North American Premiere)

Einstein once said: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” In the past five years, billions of honeybees simply vanished for reasons still obscure. If the bees keep dying, there will be drastic effects for humans as well: more than one third of our food production depends on pollination by honeybees and their lives and deaths are linked to ours.

No Place on Earth (Janet Tobias, U.S./UK/Germany – World Premiere)

While mapping out the largest cave system in Ukraine, explorer and investigator Chris Nicola discovers evidence that five Jewish families spent nearly a year and a half in the pitch-black caves to escape the Nazis. This is the story of the longest uninterrupted underground survival in recorded human history.

Reincarnated (Andrew Capper, U.S. – World Premiere)

Legendary hip-hop star Snoop Dogg travels to Jamaica to record a new album and immerse himself in the island’s music and culture. After decades as America’s ultimate gangsta, Snoop seeks a more spiritual path.

Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out (Marina Zenovich, U.S. – World Premiere)

Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out

In 2009, celebrated director Roman Polanski was arrested at the Zurich Film Festival. His weekend jaunt turned into a 10-month imprisonment. Zenovich’s follow up to Wanted and Desired — which some say was one of the reasons for Polanski’s arrest — explores the bizarre clash of politics, celebrity justice and the media.

The Secret Disco Revolution (Jamie Kastner, Canada – World Premiere)

A cheeky, sexy documentary-hybrid, The Secret Disco Revolution wraps revealing celebrity interviews – The Village People, Gloria Gaynor, Kool and the Gang – classic glitter-era footage and music in a hilarious new package that never lets you stop dancing long enough to decide what’s real and what’s satire.

Shepard & Dark (Treva Wurmfeld, U.S. – World Premiere)

Remember when close friends corresponded by letters? When intimate thoughts about life, family and mortality were hand-written or typed on the page, with full thought given to every word? This is the kind of friendship that Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark had.

Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky (Barry Avrich, Canada – World Premiere)

One of the most infamous moguls, Garth Drabinsky’s incredible story is the most dramatic and unprecedented rise to and fall from power in show business history. Show Stopper features interviews with artists who loved him, industry players who battled him and the media who spilled gallons of ink chronicling his prodigious career.

State 194 (Dan Setton, Israel/Palestine/U.S. – World Premiere)

In 2009, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad launched a plan to demonstrate that his people were deserving of statehood, inspiring them to change their destiny and seek U.N. membership. Since then, they’ve made remarkable progress, but the political quagmire threatens to destroy the most promising opportunity for peace in years. From Participant Media, the company behind Waiting for Superman and An Inconvenient Truth.

Storm Surfers 3D (Christopher Nelius and Justin McMillan, Australia – World Premiere)

Storm Surfers 3D

Storm Surfers 3D is an epic, character-driven adventure documentary following two best friends on their quest to hunt down and ride the biggest and most dangerous waves in the world. Aussie tow-surfing legend Ross Clarke-Jones and two-time world champion Tom Carroll enlist the help of surf forecaster Ben Matson, and together they track and chase giant storms across the Great Southern Ocean.

The Walls of Dakar (Abdoul Aziz Cissé, Senegal – International Premiere)

A rare documentary that chronicles Dakar’s unplanned, spontaneous mural frescos, produced by marginal painters, rappers and taggers, that functioned, until the city’s insurgency, as one of its rare sites for free, uncensored expression and the crucible for articulating citizenship. Visually captivating, an elegy of Dakar’s unrepentant insurgent spirit of its everyday artists.
Outside of the TIFF Docs line-up, documentaries screening in other festival programs include:


Bestiaire (Denis Côté, Canada/France – Toronto Premiere)

Animals/People: Along the rhythm of the changing seasons they watch one another. Award-winning director Denis Côté’s sixth feature film, Bestiaire, unfolds like a filmic picture book about mutual observation and about peculiar perception. A contemplation of a stable imbalance, and of loose, quiet and indefinable elements.


The End of Time (Peter Mettler, Canada/Switzerland – International Premiere)

The End of Time

The End of Time is a cinematic experience from visionary filmmaker Peter Mettler which explores our perception of time.


Today’s announcements come after the festival last week announced its Galas and Special Presentations, which featured four non-fiction titles, including Liz Garbus’s Love, Marilyn.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.