Werner Herzog, Clive Oppenheimer doc “Fireball” among TIFF ’20 feature lineup

The Toronto International Film Festival revealed Thursday (July 30) the lineup of features selected for the event’s 45th edition, including documentary films such as the recently-announced Apple feature Fireball: Visitors from Darker ...
July 30, 2020

The Toronto International Film Festival revealed Thursday (July 30) the lineup of features selected for the event’s 45th edition, including documentary films such as the recently-announced Apple feature Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds from Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer and Sam Pollard’s MLK/FBI.

This year’s hybrid digital-physical event runs from Sept. 10 to 19, and will feature a smaller lineup of projects with 50 feature films and five short film programs.

“This is my 15th year as TIFF documentary programmer. This was, by far, the hardest year of making choices with all the constraints that we had on the festival at a smaller size. Every year there’s good films that we have to say no to, but this year that was more true than ever,”  Thom Powers tells Realscreen.

The 10 films announced today join the previously-announced Spike Lee-directed film David Byrne’s American Utopia, opening TIFF on Sept. 10. The film documents Byrne’s Broadway concert, which ran at the Hudson Theatre from October 2019 to February 2020.

Notable docs include Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds (pictured), which takes viewers to the far reaches of space in order to explore how shooting stars, meteorites and deep impacts “have focused the human imagination on other realms and worlds, and on our past and our future”; and Pollard’s MLK/FBI, about the US government’s surveillance and harassment of Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK/FBI felt like one of the most timely films that I watched this summer against the backdrop of street protests around the world,” Powers says. “Sam Pollard is working from documents uncovered by the biographer of Martin Luther King, David Garrow, including newly declassified files about the FBI’s intense program of surveillance and harassment of the civil rights leader who, we now widely consider a global icon and hero. Even if you know about the FBI’s program to spy on King in the 1960s, it’s still quite shocking to see this framework of how much this icon who’s beloved today was a target of fear and hatred by J. Edgar Hoover.”

Also forming the lineup is Frederick Wiseman’s City Hall, which documents the efforts by the Boston city government to provide myriad services to a diverse population; while Mayye Zayed’s observational feature Lift like a Girl visits the female weightlifting community training in the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, where 14-year-old Zebiba pursues her dream to become a professional weightlifter.

Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynta’s feature-length documentary No Ordinary Man  — which Powers describes as “well made, emotional and fascinating” — tells the story of jazz musician Billy Tipton. The film was presented at Cannes Docs 2020 as part of the Canadian Showcase of Docs-in-Progress.

Among other noteworthy titles, Powers highlights Chinese-born, American-based filmmaker Hao Wu’s 76 Days.

“[Wu has] made a number of films in China that have traveled widely on the international circuit. Here, he’s collaborating with other filmmakers in Wuhan. Even though the film is very timely in how they’ve gotten it out, it’s a real work of art with stunning images, incredible scenarios. Even though we’ve all been thinking and reading about this pandemic, every day for the last several months, this is the film that really gave me a different emotional experience of it,” Powers says.

The full list of the announced selection of documentaries are below.

“Every week brings some new changes and surprises and I would like to think that before the festival we’ll have some other things to announce,” Powers says.


76 Days
Hao Wu, Anonymous, Weixi Chen

Enemies of the State
Sonia Kennebeck

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds 
Werner Herzog, Clive Oppenheimer

The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel
Joel Bakan, Jennifer Abbott

City Hall
Frederick Wiseman

Inconvenient Indian
Michelle Latimer

Sam Pollard

Lift Like a Girl (Ash Ya Captain)
Mayye Zayed

No Ordinary Man
Aisling Chin-Yee, Chase Joynt

Notturno Gianfranco Rosi | Italy/France/Germany

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is a special reports editor at realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.