TIFF ’15: “Al Purdy,” “Omar Khadr” make Canadian line-up

Documentaries from journalists-turned-filmmakers Brian D. Johnson and Michelle Shephard are among the Canadian films set to bow at the Toronto International Film Festival. (Pictured: Guantanamo's Child: Omar Khadr)
August 5, 2015

Documentaries from journalists-turned-filmmakers Brian D. Johnson and Michelle Shephard are among the Canadian films set to bow at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Johnson – the former film critic for Canadian news magazine Maclean’s – will for the first time have a feature title of his own at TIFF with the world premiere of Al Purdy Was Here, on Canada’s unofficial poet laureate. The film will feature musicians Bruce Cockburn and Sarah Harmer as well as the authors Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje.

Also bowing is Toronto Star reporter Michelle Shephard and Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma director Patrick Reed’s Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr, which examines the story of the 28-year-old Canadian who spent time in Guantanamo after being captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and charged with war crimes.

Remaining world premieres for Canadian feature docs include Mina Shum’s Ninth Floor, on Montreal’s Sir George Williams Riot and student uprising; Avi Lewis‘ This Changes Everything, which is based on Naomi Klein’s titular book and features seven portraits of community resistance; and Geneviève Dulude-De Celles’ Welcome to F.L., on a community of teenagers navigating their environments and identities in a small Quebec town.

Elsewhere, the Short Cuts Canada program will once again feature Barry Avrich, who is back at TIFF with the world premiere of his doc short The Man Who Shot Hollywood. The film follows Jack Pashkovsky, who photographed many classic Hollywood stars during their down time at the studios. Recalling John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s Finding Vivian Maier, the photographer kept the photos to himself until his death, when he left the images to Avrich.

Other doc shorts include Sol Friedman’s Bacon & God’s Wrath, on a 90-year-old Jewish woman trying bacon for the first time; Ryan J. Noth’s Beyond the Horizon, about Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1845 voyage to find the Northwest Passage; Kevin Papatie’s Kokom, which pays tribute to the director’s grandmother, his kokom, and his Anishnabe heritage; and Amanda Strong and Bracken Hanuse Corlett’s Mia’, a hybrid doc on a young Indigenous female street artist.

Also premiering in Short Cuts Canada is Canadian film critic and author Katherine Monk’s Rock the Box, on a Vancouver-raised DJ trying to break the glass ceiling of electric dance music; and Chelsea McMullan and Douglar Nayler’s World Famous Gopher Hole Museum, on an Alberta town’s strange tourist attraction.

TIFF runs from September 10 to 20. Further documentary announcements are expected in the coming weeks.

About The Author
Meagan Kashty is an associate editor of realscreen, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Meagan is an award-winning business journalist. Prior to joining the realscreen team, Meagan was online editor of Canadian Grocer, named Magazine of the Year at the 2015 Canadian Business Media Awards. She can be reached at, and you can follow her on Twitter @MegKashty