For many in the film industry, the Fall season begins as filmmakers, buyers, sales agents, and programmers converge on the Toronto International Film Festival and sample its nearly 400 offerings. That begins this Thursday, September 4, as the 39th edition of the fest opens. Approximately 35 documentary or hybrid features will screen out of more than 280 feature presentations, while the two-day Doc Conference returns for a sixth year. What follows are highlights of the docs I’m planning to check out while in attendance:
As ever, the lion’s share of nonfiction selections appear in TIFF Docs, a section headed by my DOC NYC colleague Thom Powers. Among the recognizable names here are: Frederick Wiseman’s inside look at London’s premier art museum, NATIONAL GALLERY (pictured); Nick Broomfield’s Los Angeles serial killer investigation, TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER; Robert Kenner’s exposé on industry-backed science skeptics, MERCHANTS OF DOUBT; Fan Lixin’s look at the brotherhood forged by teenage boys competing in a popular Chinese singing competition show, I AM HERE; Laura Nix and The Yes Men’s chronicle of their latest subversive adventures, THE YES MEN ARE REVOLTING; and Ethan Hawke’s portrait of a beloved piano teacher, SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION.
Additional films screening in TIFF Docs from less familiar names include: Marah Strauch’s SUNSHINE SUPERMAN (pictured), a portrait of a man obsessed with BASE jumping; Tamara Erde’s THIS IS MY LAND, which contrasts how history is taught in Israeli vs Palestinian schools; Paul Cowan and Amer Shomani’s THE WANTED 18, about the strange but true story of Palestinian outlaw cows; Gabe Polsky’s RED ARMY, on the Soviet hockey team of the 1980s; and Dieudo Hamadi’s NATIONAL DIPLOMA, which follows Congolese students as they attempt to pass their final exam.
This year sees not a single doc in the high profile Galas section, and only one in the 70-strong Special Presentations: Roger Waters and Sean Evans’ ROGER WATERS THE WALL, a chronicle of the Pink Floyd leader’s popular touring stage show. Mavericks highlights two doc features: David Thorpe’s exploration of insecurities around one’s voice, DO I SOUND GAY?; and Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi’s New York Review of Books history, THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT. The fest’s popular Midnight Madness section presents one doc: Mark Hartley’s latest exploration of lowbrow cinema, ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS (pictured).
Finally, TIFF’s avant-garde showcase, Wavelengths, offers several documentaries or hybrids, including: Lonnie van Brummelen, Siebren de Haan, and the inhabitants of Urk’s EPISODE OF THE SEA, a hybrid portrait of a Dutch fishing village; Eric Baudelaire’s LETTERS TO MAX, an essay film following the correspondence btween the filmmaker and an official from the unacknowledged nation of Abkhazia; Sergei Loznitsa’s MAIDAN, a formalist record of the protests in Ukraine; Khady Sylla and Mariama Sylla’s A SINGLE WORD, in which the filmmakers document their grandmother’s oral history testimony; and Soon-Mi Yoo’s SONGS FROM THE NORTH (pictured), an essay exploring ideology and life in North Korea.