Sarah Palin, Comic-Con and Werner Herzog highlight 2011 Toronto Film Festival doc selections
Oscar winning filmmakers debuting new documentaries
The Toronto International Film Festival announced a new wave of documentary screenings for this year's festival and they include some premieres from notable filmmakers. Morgan Spurlock, Wim Wenders, Jessica Yu, Alex Gibny, Nick Broomfield and Toronto regular Werner Herzog will all have documentaries debuting. Additionally, Jonathan Demme's doc "I'm Carolyn Parker: The Goo, the Mad, and the Beautiful" was announced along with the bulk of the narrative selections last week.
Two other notable docs premieres are Davis Guggenheim's U2 doc "From the Sky Fall Down," which is the opening night gala, and Cameron Crowe's Pearl Jam chronicle "Pearl Jam Twenty" which will hit theaters and PBS' "American Masters" in September.
Topics covered this year include polarizing political figure Sarah Palin, former NHL enforcer Chris "Knuckles" Nilan, the global water shortage, '70s pop culture icon Paul Williams, the journey of seven visitors to Comic-Con 2010 and, of course, a number of outrageous cases of legal injustice around the world.
Here's a rundown of this year's selections so far.
Director: Wim Wenders
Official Toronto Description: German master filmmaker Wim Wenders shoots in 3D to capture the brilliantly inventive dance world of Pina Bausch and her company, Tanztheater Wuppertal. Excerpts from many of her most famous pieces are shot outside in the streets and parks of Wuppertal capturing the drama and power of her repertoire.
"This is not a Film"
Directors: Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
Official Toronto Description: Sentenced to six years in prison and banned from writing and making films for 20 years by the Islamic Republic Court in Tehran, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi waited for the verdict of his court appeal for months. Through the depiction of a day in his life while he•s on house arrest, Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (a documentary filmmaker and former assistant director) offer audiences an overview of the current situation of Iranian cinema.
Director: Kim Ki-Duk
Official Festival Description: While shooting a suicide scene for his last film, Dream, in 2008, filmmaker Kim Ki-Duk's lead actress nearly perished and the incident triggered an emotional and creative breakdown for Kim. As an act of self-administered therapy, Arirang takes playful liberties with the documentary form as Kim traces his experiences and mindset during this period of crisis.
"The Boy Who Was King"
Director: Andrey Paounov
Official Festival Description: Director Andrey Paounov ("The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories") explores the strange history of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha who became Bulgaria's tsar at age 6, then was exiled during years of communism and returned to be elected Prime Minister.
"Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope"
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Official Festival Description: Have you ever imagined a place where Vulcans and vampires get along? Where wizards and wookies can be themselves? Welcome to Comic-Con San Diego. What started as a fringe comic book convention for 500 fans has grown into the pop culture event of the year that influences every form of entertainment, now attended by over 140,000. "Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope" explores this cultural phenomenon by following the lives of seven attendees as they descend upon the ultimate geek mecca. Includes interviews with Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, Frank Miller and Matt Groening.
Director: Frederick Wiseman
Documentary master Frederick Wiseman ("La Danse," "Boxing Gym") spent ten weeks exploring the legendary Parisian cabaret club Crazy Horse, which boasts the greatest and most chic nude dancing in the world. Founded in 1951, the club has become a Parisian nightlife must for any visitor, ranking alongside the Eiffel tower and the Louvre. Wiseman's impeccable eye allows us to enter into this intriguing international temple of the Parisian club world and to discover what makes the Crazy Horse tick: elegance, perfectionism and a grueling schedule. The film follows the rehearsals, backstage preparations and performances for a new show, Désirs.
Director: Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry
Official Festival Description: It seems beyond comprehension that a child would ask her mother to put bleach in the bathwater to lighten her skin. Yet this is a reality for many members of the African diaspora. For many black women – who, like all women, are often judged by their physical appearance – being dark-skinned becomes their defining characteristic. Actor/director Bill Duke ("A Rage in Harlem") and D. Channsin Berry set out to examine why skin colour bias persists and how it affects the lives of women on the receiving end of it.
"Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell"
Director: Rithy Panh
Official Festival Description: Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime caused the death of some 1.8 million people, representing one-quarter of the population of Cambodia. Rithy Panh first explored the legacy of Cambodia's genocide with S21, the Khmer Rouge Killing Machine. This captivating new documentary continues Panh's investigation with a portrait of Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, the man responsible for running the notorious S21 prison.
"Gerhard Richter Painting"
Director: Corinna Belz
Official Festival Description: Gerhard Richter, one of the internationally most significant contemporary artists of our times, granted filmmaker Corinna Belz access to his studio in the spring and summer of 2009 where he was working on a series of large abstract paintings. In quiet, highly concentrated images, the film gives us a fly-on-the-wall perspective of a very personal, tension-filled process of artistic creation. In her intelligent and perceptive film, Corinna Belz brings us closer to the complex processes of artistic creation. Gerhard Richter Painting is the penetrating portrait of an artist at work – and a fascinating film about the art of seeing.
Directors: Ashley Sabin and David Redmon
Official Festival Description: Despite a lack of obvious similarities between Siberia and Tokyo, a thriving model industry connects these distant regions. Girl Model follows Ashley, a deeply ambivalent model scout who scours the Siberian countryside looking for fresh faces to send to the Japanese market, and one of her discoveries, Nadya, a 13-year-old plucked from the Siberian countryside and dropped into the center of Tokyo with promises of a profitable career. After Ashley's initial discovery of Nadya, the two rarely meet again, but their stories are inextricably bound.
"I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful"
Director: Jonathan Demme
Official Festival Description: Carolyn Parker was the last to leave her neighborhood when a mandatory evacuation order was decreed as Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans in the summer of 2005, and was the first resident to return to her now flood-devastated community. Mrs. Parker takes us deep inside her personal biography as a child born in the 1940s, raised in segregated New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward, who became a teenager joining the front lines in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and later became one of the most outspoken voices in the fight for every New Orleanian's right to return home after the devastation of the floods that followed Katrina.
"In My Mother’s Arms"
Directors: Atia Al Daradji and Mohamed Al Daradji
Official Festival Description: Husham works tirelessly to build the hopes, dreams and prospects of the 32 damaged children of war under his care at a small orphanage in Baghdad's most dangerous district. When the landlord gives Husham and the boys just two weeks to vacate the premises, a desperate search for lodging ensues.
"Into the Abyss"
Director: Werner Herzog
Official Festival Description: Exploring a triple homicide case in Texas, Werner Herzog ("Cave of Forgotten Dreams," "Grizzly Man") probes the psyches of those involved, including the 28-year-old death row inmate scheduled to die within eight days of appearing on-screen. Herzog's inquiries unveil layers of humanity against an American Gothic landscape. As he's so often done before, the director makes an enlightening trip out of ominous territory.
"Last Call at the Oasis"
Director: Jessica Yu ("Protagonist")
Official Festival Description:: We're running out of water, and contaminating what's left. How long before the well runs dry? In unravelling this interconnected global crisis, Last Call at the Oasis focuses on the country with the largest water footprint – the United States – and explores why the threat hasn't hit home. Academy Award®-winning director Jessica Yu draws upon the research of scientists and enlists diverse voices ranging from the real Erin Brockovich, exemplifying feisty resistance, to actor Jack Black, supplying welcome comic relief.
"The Last Dogs of Winter"
Director: Costa Botes
Official Festival Description: Canadian Eskimo Dogs or Quimmiq were once indispensible to human life in the arctic. Today, the breed faces extinction. Since 1976, Brian Ladoon has stuck to a promise to maintain a viable breeding colony of the animals, battling chronic underfunding, wandering polar bears, officialdom and shocking weather to keep his word.
"The Last Gladiators"
Director: Alex Gibney
Official Festival Description: Chris “Knuckles” Nilan can chart his hockey career by his scars. He earned those stripes as one the NHL's fiercest enforcers, throwing punches to defend his teammates. While playing for the Montreal Canadiens in the mid-1980s, his fights racked up penalty minutes, but received roaring approval from fans and helped win the Stanley Cup. When injuries forced Knuckles to retire in 1992, he faced a new battle: how do you stop being a gladiator and re-enter normal society? Academy Award® winner Alex Gibney ("Taxi to the Dark Side") explores the rough and tumble world of hockey.
"Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory"
Directors: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
Official Festival Description: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory chronicles the 18-year odyssey of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, three teens incarcerated for a horrifying crime they claim they did not commit. In the latest installment of the acclaimed documentary film series about the “West Memphis Three,” facts are reexamined, new evidence is revealed, and new suspects are scrutinized. The film is a riveting look at American justice.
"Paul Williams Still Alive"
Director: Stephen Kessler
Official Festival Description: A documentary filmmaker tracks down Grammy and Oscar award-winning actor/singer/songwriter Paul Williams in an attempt to find out what happened to his fallen idol. Paul Williams was one of the biggest stars of the 1970s. He was everywhere – on "The Tonight Show" 50 times and appeared on variety shows, sitcoms, game shows and movies from "The Love Boat" to "Phantom of the Paradise." But in the 1980s, he just disappeared. This movie is about what happened when filmmaker Stephen Kessler finds him.
Director: Ron Fricke
Official Festival Description: "amsara is a Tibetan word that means “the ever turning wheel of life,” a concept both intimate and vast, the perfect subject for filmmakers Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson whose previous collaborations include Chronos and Baraka. Samsara takes the form of a nonverbal, guided meditation that spans the globe on a journey of the soul. Through powerful images pristinely photographed in 70mm and a dynamic music score, the film illuminates the links between humanity and the rest of the nature, showing how our life cycle mirrors the rhythm of the planet.
"Sarah Palin – You Betcha!"
Directors: Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill
Official Festival Description: Nick Broomfield's quest for the real Sarah Palin involves battling the icy snows of Alaska in mid-winter to speak to the school friends, family, and Republican colleagues that in previous days gave their heart, soul and belief to the charismatic, charming, intoxicating ex-hockey mom. But it's not all plain sailing. People are frightened to talk; Wasilla makes Twin Peaks look like a walk in the park. It's a devout evangelical community – 76 churches with a population of only 6 thousand, and the Crystal meth capital of Alaska. Broomfield brings his celebrated wit and determination to cracking her story.
"The Story of Film: An Odyssey"
Director: Mark Cousins
Official Festival Description: Filmed on four continents over six years, this epic 15-hour documentary tells the story of innovation in the movies based on the acclaimed book of the same title by Mark Cousins. Featuring exclusive interviews with legendary filmmakers like Stanley Donen and Abbas Kiarostami, The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a passionate, cinematic journey across 11 decades of cinema, and a thousand films.
"The Tall Man"
Director: Tony Krawitz
Official Festival Description: This is the story of Palm Island, the Australian tropical Paradise where one morning Cameron Doomadgee swore at a policeman and forty-five minutes later lay dead in a watch-house cell. It's also the story of that policeman, the tall enigmatic Christopher Hurley who prior to Doomadgee's death had been decorated for his work with aboriginal communities. Based on Chloe Hooper's award winning book, "The Tall Man" explores one of Australia's most sensational cases of culture clash and the haunting moral puzzle at its core.
Directors: Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin
Official Festival Description: In 2004, football coach Bill Courtney took on the daunting job of coaching at Manassas High School in inner-city Memphis, where players are more likely to wind up in jail than in college. The Manassas Tigers were perennial whipping boys of the league, bereft of victories, funds, and morale. Courtney recruited a group of freshmen to turn things around, and in their first season they got creamed. But with each passing year they won more games and more respect. At the start of the season in 2009, Courtney set a goal: to win the first play-off game in the school's 110-year history.
Director: Gary Hustwit
Official Festival Description: Director Gary Hustwit ("Helvetica," "Objectified") completes his design film trilogy with Urbanized. Exploring the design of cities with the world•s foremost architects, policymakers and engaged citizens, Urbanized frames a global discussion about how the design of our cities affects our lives.
Director: Michael Glawogger
Official Festival Description: "Whores’ Glory" is a cinematic triptych on prostitution: three countries, three languages, three religions. In Thailand, women wait for clients behind glass panes, staring at reflections of themselves. In Bangladesh, men go to a ghetto of love to satisfy their unfulfilled desires on indentured girls. And in Mexico, women mix hard drugs with sex labour to avoid facing their own reality. In worlds where the most intimate act has become a commodity, these women have physically and emotionally experienced everything that can happen between a man and a woman. For this they have always received money, but it has not made their lives rich in anything but stories.
The 2011 Toronto International Film Festival begins Sept. 8 and ends on Sept. 18. Look for continuing coverage of the festival on HitFix.
For year-round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.
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