REVIEW: TIFF Docs

REVIEW: TIFF Docs

Toronto audiences who love documentaries are just about the luckiest in the world. In the spring, there’s Hot Docs, which offers a plethora of non-fiction films from around the world. Less than six months later comes TIFF with a highly curated international selection of features, culled by Thom Powers. This year, as always, Powers’ selections are the kinds of films that will play in theatres, not television, after their run of the festival circuit. They have higher production values and are generally made by directors with distinctly solid reputations. Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman is back at TIFF Docs, for instance, with an impressively detailed look at how London’s acclaimed National Gallery runs, what the audiences are like, and what sort of art is on display. Nick Broomfield is also returning to the festival after a relatively long absence, with a film about serial killer Lonnie Franklin, who may have killed over 100 people since the late ‘90s. Tales of a Grim Reaper is a natural follow-up to Broomfield’s profiles of Aileen Wuornos, which he turned into two notorious feature docs in 1993 and 2002. And Michael Moore will be seen in Toronto, too, giving a keynote speech at TIFF’s Doc Conference and at the 25th anniversary public screenings of his breakout doc classic Roger and Me (pardon my Zoomer moment—migod! A quarter of a century?). There’s much more: Ethan Hawke with a feature on pianist-teacher Seymour Bernstein, the infamous Yes Men with a doc about climate change, a film heaven sent for many Canucks on the great Red Army hockey teams of the ‘80s—but let’s “not review” a couple...
REVIEW: The NFB at TIFF

REVIEW: The NFB at TIFF

TIFF wouldn’t be TIFF without the NFB. In fact, cinema history in Canada effectively starts with the formation of the Board 75 years ago this year. Veterans of the festival (back in the day when it was called the Festival of Festivals) will fondly recall that the Canadian film party was hosted by the Board for many years before it was supplanted by the even more extravagant “schmooze” hosted by our own Moses Znaimer at CityTV. Early festivals premiered many NFB films and that practice continues this year with the launch of two strong documentary features, The Wanted 18 and Trick or Treaty? Before getting into discussing them, it’s nice to note that TIFF is paying a small tribute on his centenary to the NFB’s first animator, the great Norman McLaren, with the screening of his wonderfully abstract and innovative 3-D piece Around is Around. McLaren was Canada’s first star director, winning an Oscar, a Palme d’Or at Cannes and a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for three of his films—Neighbours, Blinkity Blank and Rhythmatic—during his heyday in the 1950s. Still going strong in her 80s is one of the Film Board’s icons, Alanis Obomsawin. The preeminent First Nation’s filmmaker in the world, she was recruited by the Board in the late “60s and has remained with them for well over 40 years creating a remarkable body of work that has cast a clear light on the injustice system that has created an impoverished way of life for many of Canada’s indigenous peoples. There’s love, wit and passion in Obomsawin’s film—they’re not dry and solely didactic. But...

Hot Docs 2014

Searing films highlight North America’s leading documentary festival At the age of 21, Hot Docs has passed from a lusty adolescence into full-blown maturity in the most appealing way. Instead of transforming into a bland corporate adult, this appealing young beast of a festival is more community minded than ever. The opening party at the ROM in support of “docs in schools”—a programme that has screened documentaries to nearly 80,000 students—is announced right smack in the catalogue. So much for secrecy—or lavish parties held away from the public’s view. Over the ten days of the festival, there will be an interactive installation called Avatar Secrets available for the public to enjoy for free at TIFF Bell Lightbox, on stage interviews with Alice Cooper, Bib Bird (ok—Carroll Spinney, who plays the character) and Star Trek’s legendary Mr. Sulu—George Takei. Plus a live doc, with NY musicians The Quavers accompanied by filmmaker Sam Greene as the narrator, recounting and sonically enhancing true tales from the Guinness Book of World Records. Every year in my overview piece on Hot Docs, I feel compelled to point out the grim paradox that is at the centre of the full-length POV documentary. As the box office figures for Hot Docs demonstrates each year, tens of thousands of Torontonians embrace long-form non-fiction films. Yet it’s harder and harder to fund them because broadcasters ranging from the always-under-attack CBC to the “definitely for profit” channels owned by Rogers, Bell Media and other conglomerates feel that they can make more money producing cop shows and reality TV programmes than the next crop of “hot docs.” And the CRTC,...