Arts Review, Movies

Canadian Docs are bigger than ever at TIFF

Canadian Docs are bigger than ever at TIFF featured image

TIFF 2016 Report #1
By Marc Glassman with files and commentary from Pat Mullen

With nearly 50 documentaries playing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), it’s clear that non-fiction film features have become far more interesting to audiences than ever before. A number of reasons have contributed to this amazing growth:

– There’s a decline in belief in mainstream media news. There are more news channels than ever but all of them seem to be regurgitating the same stories about Trump and Hilary interspersed with tales of “reality” stars like the Kardashians.

– Docs are offering the kind of in-depth reporting that the more responsible TV channels used to provide. And people still want to know the truth about what’s happening in the world.

– New technologies have made it economically feasible to shoot footage anywhere in the world quite cheaply. Editing equipment is easily available as are cameras and sound recording devices. Post production can literally take place at home. Docs can now be made cheaply but still look and sound great.

– Young filmmakers are increasingly following the examples of pioneers like Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese: they’re making docs as well as dramas. Before you did one or the other; now a great film project is worth doing, whether in fiction or fact.

Canada, the country that started the documentary movement with Nanook of the North and created the first great organisation dedicated to making non-fiction film, the National Film Board, is benefitting from the world-wide interest in docs. TIFF is programming a number of very interesting docs. The films are:

wecantmakethesamemistakestwice_01 We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice 

Alanis Obomsawin | Canada | World Premiere
Programme: Masters

Indigenous filmmaking icon Alanis Obomsawin (84-years-young) has made a real-life courtroom drama featuring Cindy Blackstock, children’s rights advocate and spokesperson for Canada’s First Nations, versus the Crown, with a groundbreaking decision at its conclusion. The issue is the human rights of First Nations children and whether they’re literally “worth” as much as every other Canadian child. We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice documents this epic court challenge, giving voice to the tenacious childcare workers at its epicentre.

allgovernmentslie_01All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and The Spirit of I.F. Stone 
Fred Peabody | Canada | World Premiere
Programme: TIFF Docs

Here’s an example of a film about the kind of journalism that used to be done, at least some of the time, by the mainstream. Think Watergate. Fred Peabody’s film looks at investigative journalists Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Matt Taibbi, and others who are changing the face of journalism. They’re uncovering government and corporate secrets, in the style of ground-breaking American journalist I.F. Stone, who did it back when the Cold War, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam conflict was happening.

blackcode_01Black Code

Nicholas de Pencier | Canada | World Premiere
Programme: TIFF Docs

Another example of examining a “news item” that the mainstream will not discuss. Black Code shows how the internet is being controlled and manipulated by governments in order to monitor (and arrest) their citizens. Nick de Pencier’s film, inspired by UofT Professor Ron Deibert’s book, analyses global security, citizenship, privacy, and democracy in today’s age.

Giants of Africa
Hubert Davis | Canada | World Premiere
Programme: TIFF Docs

Hubert Davis, whose film Hardwood about his father Mel Davis, a former member of the legendary basketball team The Harlem Globetrotters, was nominated for an Oscar, returns to the sport in Giants of Africa. Davis follows Masai Ujiri, president and general manager of the Toronto Raptors, who goes to Africa each summer to stage basketball development camps. His goal is to find great, if raw, young talents and players from Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Rwanda respond to his wish.

girlunbound_01Girl Unbound

Erin Heidenreich | Pakistan/Canada/Hong Kong/South Korea | World Premiere
Programme: TIFF Docs

A brilliant female squash player in Pakistan, Maria Toorpakai Wazir has spent her young life defying fear and cultural expectations. Resisting the Taliban, she has become an athlete and member of the national team. Despite threats to Wazir and her family, she continues to mock the rules—and play squash.

mostlysunny_04Mostly Sunny

Dilip Mehta | Canada | World Premiere
Programme: TIFF Docs

You couldn’t make a drama about Sunny Leone. No one would believe it. Imagine: a Sikh girl raised conservatively in Sarnia, Ontario becomes a famous porn actress and then—somehow—gets taken up by the glamorous and puritanical Bollywood film producers and becomes a TV and film superstar in India.

theriverofmydreams_02_onlyonesuppliedThe River of My Dreams

Brigitte Berman | Canada | World Premiere
Programme: TIFF Docs

Oscar winning documentarian (Artie Shaw: Time is all you’ve Got) Brigitte Berman has made a wonderfully insightful film about a Canadian icon, actor-writer-director Gordon Pinsent. Using digital technology as well as her typical film prowess, this doc auteur once again has made a biography film of authority and compassion.

theskyjackerstale_01The Skyjacker’s Tale

Jamie Kastner | Canada | World Premiere
Programme: TIFF Docs

Veteran filmmaker Kastner’s new doc recounts the scandalous story of a mass murder, a controversial trial and an escape via skyjacking to Cuba.

Ishmael Muslim Ali (né Labeet) is one of the most wanted U.S. fugitives ever—and Kastner’s film reveals what he’s like now.

thestairs_01The Stairs

Hugh Gibson | Canada | World Premiere
Programme: TIFF Docs

Working with members in a harm reduction programme in Regent Park as it was being transfigured, director Hugh Gibson has created a compassionate film that deals with drug use, sex work, and homelessness. The Stairs focuses pm the dramatic lives of Marty, Greg, and Roxanne, each of whom survived decades of street involvement in Toronto.

Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves 
(Ceux qui font les revolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau)
Mathieu Denis, Simon Lavoie | Canada | World Premiere
Programme: Platform

Inspired by Quebec’s massive 2012 student demonstrations against a proposed increase in tuition fees, this film bursts at the seams with visual exuberance — employing varying aspect ratios, a hypnotic music track, on-screen texts, and radical political rhetoric. At the same time, it subjects the members of the political cell to microscopic analysis as they bicker and fight, all the while grappling with what it means to attempt an overthrow of the government.—Pat Mullen

Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus

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