Seventeen documentary films have been announced for the Toronto International Film Festival, and it’s only the beginning, says documentary programmer Thom Powers (pictured). This year, the fest will also introduce a People’s Choice award for best doc.
Documentaries will finally get their due with the new Cadillac People’s Choice Award – Documentary. Winning the People’s Choice Award at TIFF is a big coup, with docs having come close to snagging the prize in recent years. Last year’s winner Slumdog Millionaire beat out documentary More Than A Game, while the year before, the People’s Choice Award runner-up was doc Body of War. ‘It was always very frustrating to me to see a documentary come so close to the top but walk away from the festival without those laurels to take out to the world. This year we get to recognize the documentary that gets the highest number of votes amongst the audience,’ says Powers.
Although Powers says there’s never been an overarching theme in the documentaries for previous festivals, this year is different. ‘There is more of a dominant connective tissue to a lot of these films,’ says Powers. ‘A lot of them really have something urgent to say about our world being out of balance, whether it’s our economy, our environment or other aspects of society, so films like Colony, How to Hold a Flag, Collapse, [and] Google Baby have very urgent messages for viewers.’
Colony, by Carter Gunn and Ross McDonnell, centers around U.S. beekeepers coping with colony collapse disorder, while How to Hold a Flag, by Gunner Palace filmmakers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, follows Iraq war veterans creating new lives set against the 2008 election. Collapse, from Chris Smith (American Movie), focuses on radical thinker Michael Ruppert and Google Baby, by Zippi Brand Frank, is a film about outsourcing surrogacy in India.
Powers also suggests viewers up for a good adventure should see Snowblind, the story of Rachael Scdoris, a blind snow adventurer who competes in the Iditarod dog sled race across Alaska. A thrilling journey for fans of French filmmaker Henri-Georges Clouzot is L’Enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot, directed by film archivist Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea, in which an unfinished film by the titular Clouzot comes back to light.
Other docs announced include Emmett Malloy’s The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights, about the White Stripes’ cross-Canada tour; Don Argott’s The Art of the Steal, on the power struggle over Albert Barnes’ billion-dollar collection of Post-Impressionist paintings and Mehran Tamadon’s Bassidji, which goes in-depth with extremist supporters of the Islamic republic of Iran. Also appearing: Andrew James and Joshua Ligairi’s Cleanflix, which exposes the industry of ‘cleaning’ up Hollywood movies for Mormon viewers, a process that wasn’t immune to legal problems and its own sex scandal; Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith’s self-explanatory The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers; Roberto Hernández and Geoffrey Smith’s Presumed Guilty, about exposing the contradictions of the Mexican judicial system; Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags from veteran filmmaker Marc Levin which looks at the past and present of New York’s garment district; The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls by Leanne Pooley about New Zealand’s finest lesbian country-and-western singers and Erik Gandini’s Videocracy, which examines the media empire of Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlosconi.
Jeff Stilton’s Good Hair will be a Special Presentation at TIFF, and follows Chris Rock on a quest to understand African-American hair culture. For the kids, the Sprockets Family Zone program offers Turtle: The Incredible Journey. Directed by Nick Stringer, the doc follows a loggerhead turtle on its ocean adventure.
2008 was characteristic of a lot of celebrity-driven docs, from fashion designer Valentino to NBA superstar LeBron James and the cast of A Chorus Line. This year’s slate is more about discovery, says Powers. ‘We’re exploring the worlds of beekeepers, surrogate mothers, [and] U.S. army veterans so this year is characterized by the everyman,’ he states.
You can expect more documentary news to be announced leading up to TIFF, which runs from September 10 to 19.