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Real to Reel: TIFF 2011

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Real to Reel: TIFF 2011
By Marc Glassman
September 2, 2011

Torontonians who love documentaries have to consider themselves twice blessed. Every spring, those who relish the non-fiction form get to indulge their passion for the ten days of Hot Docs. Not to be outdone, every fall TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) offers its own selection of documentaries in the Real to Reel programme. While TIFF doesn’t offer the quantity of Hot Docs, programmer Thom Powers’s choices certainly match the other festival in terms of quality.

TIFF and Powers can always attract top talents and this year is no exception. Veteran British documentarian Nick Broomfield brings his polished nerdy act forward in Sarah Palin–You Betcha! For over 20 years, Broomfield has entertained and enlightened his growing audience with an awkward aging schoolboy approach–think Hugh Grant as a reporter–to that great journalistic trope, the interview. Unlike the Mounties, Broomfield never gets his man–or in this case, woman. The fun is in finding what else he uncovers. Here, Broomfield reveals the Republican Party’s sexiest grandmother through chats with friends, former colleagues and rivals and, memorably, clergymen.

Palin isn’t the only political figure under scrutiny in Real to Reel. In The Boy who was a King, Bulgarian director Andry Paounov tracks the bizarre comeback of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who was a Tsar at the age of six and overthrown by the Communists three years later. After communism collapsed, a popular movement developed to bring back the King. And sure enough, in 2001, he was elected Prime Minister of one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Paounov’s doc follows what happens next to Simeon, when his countrymen become disappointed with his inability to bring back the romantic past.

Politics melds with sociology and CSI-style thriller techniques in Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the third–and presumably last–installment of directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky epic feature documentaries about a murder case in West Memphis, Arkansas. In 1993, the West Memphis Three, teenaged boys Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. were accused of being murderers of three younger boys–and of being satanic cult worshippers and, of course, lovers of rock, booze and partying. After the highly successful screenings and broadcast of the first Paradise Lost film, which showed the legal system’s clear prejudice against the defendants, a defense fund was assembled that had contributions from Johnny Depp, Metallica and Eddie Vedder. In the second, a case was made against the stepfather of one of the victims. In the new film, DNA evidence proves that the stepfather is innocent–but the investigation continues. And now, as most people know, the Three have been released after 18 years in prison.

Atom Egoyan has been signed to direct a fictionalized version of the story. Meanwhile, the last of Berlinger and Sinofsky’s trilogy can be seen at TIFF.

Another doc master, Frederick Wiseman, returns to TIFF with another film set in Paris, Crazy Horse. Here, Wiseman who has made a career of looking at institutions ranging from high schools to mental asylums to the Paris Opera Ballet, uses his famed verité style to observe at close range the acclaimed nude dancers at “Le Crazy Horse.” Shot in High-Definition video, Wiseman documents the brilliant choreographer Philippe Decouflé and his attempts to update the erotic movements of a legendary Parisian dance troupe.

In Gerhard Richter Painting, one of the greatest contemporary artists is profiled while a major retrospective of his pieces is being assembled in London. The German painter is shown explaining his immense colourful work to curator Marian Goodman but the focus of documentarian Corinna Belz’ feature is on the painter tackling his own work.

Real to Reel is extraordinarily rich in cinematic offerings this year. Next week, more docs will be examined–just as TIFF 2011 approaches.

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