Docs

“Sunshine Superman,” “Grim Sleeper” set for TIFF 2014

New documentaries from Nick Broomfield (pictured), Laura Nix, Ethan Hawke, Joshua Oppenheimer and Lixin Fan are set to screen at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, alongside three titles from Cannes.
July 29, 2014

New documentaries from Nick Broomfield (pictured), Laura Nix, Ethan Hawke, Joshua Oppenheimer and Lixin Fan are set to screen at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), alongside three titles from Cannes.

Among the TIFF Docs world premieres will be Broomfield’s Tales of the Grim Sleeper, which was the first ‘Footprints’ doc commissioned by Sky Atlantic in the UK two years ago. The film focuses on the story of Lonnie Franklin Jr, an alleged serial killer in California.

Other world premieres will include Marah Strauch’s Sunshine Superman, which looks at BASE jumping pioneer Carl Boenish; and Hajooj Kuka’s Beats of the Antonov, which reflects on music and identity in conflict areas in Sudan.

Meanwhile, Joshua Oppenheimer’s anticipated documentary The Look of Silence – a follow-up to his Oscar-nominated film The Act of Killing – will have its Canadian premiere at the Toronto festival.

The film is having its world premiere in Venice the week before TIFF, as previously reported, and the designation of “Canadian premiere” – as opposed to North American premiere – suggests the film will also play the Telluride Film Festival just before TIFF. Oppenheimer’s Killing previously had its world premiere at TIFF in 2012.

Silvered Water, Syria Self-PortraitElsewhere, three docs which had first screenings at the Cannes Film Festival in May will have North American premieres at TIFF: Gabe Polsky’s hockey doc Red Army, Frederick Wiseman’s arts film National Gallery, and Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s Syria doc Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait (pictured, right).

The TIFF Docs slate unveiled today (July 29) features significantly fewer world premieres than last year’s line-up. And while more films are likely to be added to the slate in the coming weeks, at this point in 2013 TIFF had announced a slate of 22 docs, 14 of which were world premieres.

By contrast, today’s announcement consists of just 16 docs, and only six of those are listed as world premieres. In part, this is due to Toronto’s recent, much-discussed decision to bar any films which play at the Telluride Film Festival from playing during TIFF’s opening weekend, in a bid to crack down on the number of films having ‘sneak previews’ in at the Colorado festival.

Last year, for example, Shane Salerno’s Salinger, Penn and Teller’s Tim’s Vermeer and Errol Morris’s The Unknown Known all played at Telluride the weekend before TIFF, ahead of their official World and North American premieres at Toronto and Venice.

There is no sign yet of some of the bigger doc titles known to be nearing completion – such as Alex Gibney’s as-yet-untitled doc on James Brown, Laura Poitras’s long-brewing film on surveillance, and Kirby Dick’s as-yet-untitled doc on campus rape in America – however TIFF has yet to announced its ‘Mavericks’ line-up, which often houses bigger-name filmmakers.

As previously reported, TIFF will host a special 25th anniversary screening of Michael Moore’s breakthrough documentary Roger & Me.

TIFF runs from September 4-14. The full TIFF Docs line-up announced today, with synopses provided by the festival and edited by realscreen, follows below:

Beats of the Antonov
Hajooj Kuka (Sudan/South Africa)
World Premiere

Beats of the Antonov follows refugees from the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains in Sudan as they survive displacement and the trauma of civil war. Music, a cornerstone of their traditions and identity, becomes itself a vehicle for survival.

I Am Here (Wo Jiu Shi Wo)
Lixin Fan (China)
International Premiere

During the summer of 2013, 12 young boys battle each other for the No. 1 spot in Super Boys, a decade-old American Idol-style TV talent show in China. They discover who they are and learn to love each other in the process. From the director of Last Train Home.

Iraqi Odyssey
Samir (Iraq/Switzerland/Germany/United Arab Emirates)
World Premiere

Tracing the emigrations of his family over more than half a century, this riveting documentary epic from acclaimed expatriate Iraqi filmmaker Samir (Forget Baghdad) pays moving homage to the frustrated democratic dreams of a people successively plagued by the horrors of dictatorship, war, and foreign occupation.

Merchants of Doubt
Robert Kenner (U.S.)
Canadian Premiere

Documentarian Robert Kenner (Food, Inc.) investigates the shadowy world of professional skeptics, whose services are bought and paid for by corporations, think tanks and other special interests to cast doubt and delay on public and governmental action on climate change.

National Diploma (Examen d’Etat)
Dieudo Hamadi (France/Congo)
North American Premiere

A group of young Congolese high-school students who are about to write the exam for their National Diploma in Kisangani, Democratic  Republic of Congo, gather in a maquis (communal house) to help each other prepare.

It is common practice to be ejected from classes during the school year for failing to pay “teachers’ fees”, but the students are determined, and resort to all means at their disposal to earn a diploma, a stepping stone out of a life of poverty.

National Gallery
Frederick Wiseman (France/U.S.)
North American Premiere

Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman (Crazy Horse, At Berkeley) takes the audience behind the scenes of this London institution, which is inhabited by masterpieces of Western art from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. In a perpetual and dizzying game of mirrors, the film presents a portrait of a place, its inner workings, and its relationship with the world, its staff, its public and its paintings.

Natural Resistance
Jonathan Nossiter (Italy/France)
North American Premiere

A group of Italian vineyard proprietors live a life many can only dream of. In their converted 11th-century monastery and winery in Tuscany, Giovanna Tiezzi and Stefano Borsa find a way to grow grains, fruit and wine that create a link to their ancient Etruscan heritage.

Ten years after Mondovino, the wine world has changed just like the world itself. The enemy is now far greater than the threat of globalization. But against the new world economy, these natural wine rebels offer a model of charmed and joyous resistance.

Red Army
Gabe Polsky (U.S./Russia)
Canadian Premiere

Red Army follows the most successful dynasty in sports history: the Soviet Union’s Red Army hockey team of the 1980s. Told from the perspective of its captain Slava Fetisov, the story portrays his transformation from national hero to political enemy.

From the USSR to Russia, the film examines how sport mirrors social and cultural movements, and parallels the rise and fall of the Red Army team with the Soviet Union. An inspiring story about the Cold War played out on the ice rink, and the man who stood up to a powerful system and paved the way for change for generations of Russians.

Seymour: An Introduction
Ethan Hawke (U.S.)
International Premiere

Director Ethan Hawke explores the life and lessons of pianist, teacher and sage, Seymour Bernstein. Since giving up a career as a concert pianist at age 50, Seymour has dedicated his life to teaching his students about music, happiness and the power of detaching satisfaction from success.

Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait (Ma’a al Fidda)
Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan (Syria/France)
North American Premiere

The collaboration between exiled Syrian filmmaker Ossama Mohammed and young Kurdish activist Wiam Simav Bedirxan distills footage from thousands of clandestine videos to create a shattering, on-the-ground documentary chronicle of the ordeal being undergone by ordinary Syrians in the ongoing civil war.

Sunshine Superman
Marah Strauch (U.S./Norway/United Kingdom)
World Premiere

Sunshine Superman tells the story of Carl Boenish who pioneered and popularized the activity of BASE jumping (jumping from fixed objects with a parachute). Carl married Jean Campbell and together they travelled to Norway in 1984 to jump from the cliffs of Trollveggen. Against the backdrop of the midnight sun, tragedy strikes.

Tales of the Grim Sleeper
Nick Broomfield (U.S./United Kingdom)
World Premiere

Nick Broomfield digs into the case of Lonnie Franklin, who is accused of being the “Grim Sleeper” and is on trial for allegedly terrorizing South Central Los Angeles over a span of 25 years.

The Look of Silence (Senyap)
Joshua Oppenheimer (Denmark/Indonesia/Norway/Finland/United Kingdom)
Canadian Premiere

Through Joshua Oppenheimer’s work with perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide, a family of survivors discovers who killed their son. The youngest brother is determined to break the spell of silence and fear under which the survivors live, and confronts the men responsible for his brother’s murder.

This Is My Land
Tamara Erde (France)
World Premiere

This film follows several Israeli and Palestinian teachers over one academic year, observing their exchanges and confrontations with students, their debates with their respective ministries’ curriculum and its restrictions, and offering an intimate glimpse into the profound and long-lasting effect that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict transmits onto the next generation.

The Yes Men Are Revolting
Laura Nix and the Yes Men (U.S.)
World Premiere

For two decades, The Yes Men have pulled off hilarious and spectacular media hoaxes to expose corporate crime. In this intimate portrait, they are now approaching middle age and struggle to stay inspired as the worst crime of all threatens the planet. Can they get it together before the ice caps melt?

Previously Announced

Roger & Me
Michael Moore (U.S.)
25th anniversary screening

Roger & Me is Michael Moore’s satirical account of one of America’s greatest urban disasters in Flint, Michigan, General Motors’ birthplace. Moore chronicles thwarted efforts to interview then GM Chairman Roger Smith and reveals truths about the economic cruelties of corporate America. The film celebrates its 25th anniversary, having debuted in 1989 at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award.

UPDATE 3 p.m. EST: There is also a doc playing in TIFF’s ‘Midnight Madness’ section

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
Mark Hartley (Australia)
International Premiere

Director Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood, Machete Maidens Unleashed!) continues his delightful documentary disinterment of down-market movie detritus with this chronicle of the rise and fall of 1980s action-exploitation juggernaut Cannon Films, whose contributions to the cinematic canon include American Ninja, The Delta Force, Death Wish II and Masters of the Universe.

  • More documentaries will be added in coming weeks, predominantly in the festival’s ‘Canadian’ and ‘Mavericks’ programs.
  • Check out the trailer for Red Army below:

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.

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