Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

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An Overview of the Docs at TIFF

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O, Canada! The Toronto International Film Festival kicked off this weekend and is in full swing, and, boy, are the documentaries taking the fest by storm. We’ve become accustomed to hearing about how the best films at Sundance are the docs, but in Toronto this year, there appears to be new ground breaking. There are more than fifty non-fiction films showing, and for the first time, there is a non-music doc playing in the high profile Gala section, which comes replete with red carpet, giant theaters and celebrity buzz. In fact, there are two Gala docs this year: Free Angela & All Political Prisoners and Love, Marilyn.

I got a brief report this morning from Thom Powers, TIFF head of doc programming, who reports that, in addition to docs attracting stars (Will Smith, Johnny Depp), there are “rumblings” of strong business interest; “Keep an eye on Stories We Tell and Casting By, among others, that are generating a lot of buyer interest,” he says.

The docs had at least one exec, Peter Goldwyn of Samuel Goldwyn, telling Powers that he’ll be “processing this festival for the next month.”

There are many docs playing that I’m dying to see, including Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (Alex Gibney), about sexual abuse in the Catholic church, and Reincarnated (Andy Capper), about rapper Snoop Dogg’s spiritual transformation (As a longtime fan of Snoop’s music, I’m finally living through a Beatles moment—you know, when they all went to India and got groovy).

Then there’s The Central Park Five (Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon). I grew up a stone’s throw from where the Central Park Jogger crime occurred, and I followed the case closely, despising the way the press went wild with the accused kids who purportedly committed the awful act in 1989. But I never doubted that they had actually done it. Their convictions were overturned thanks to the confession from the actual rapist in what must be one of the most incredible-but-true cases of misjustice ever committed. And it didn’t happen in some backwater county—but in the great city of New York. That Burns (and co.), who is so good at covering long-past chapters of Americana with solemn grandiosity, is taking this on is a fascinating turn.

And there’s Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley); I’ve known Polley, the actress and more recently director, since first being blown away by her performance in The Sweet Hereafter. I’ve edited her as a writer and interviewed her several times, so I thought I knew all about her but, whoa, along comes this documentary in which she tells an incredible story she’s been working on for five years, revealing that her family was not what it seemed.

I’m also totally intrigued by The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn), about an Indonesian strong man and his pals who took part in the murder of more than a million people in the 1960s, which takes a giant leap into the dark side by having them reenact their murder styles (inspired by movies) in a fictionalized setting. If the fact that Errol Morris and Werner Herzog are executive producers is a sign, then this film ought to be deeply compelling, creepy, and disturbingly honest. As a longtime-lover of violent films, I look forward to having my head spun by this one.

So, those are the TIFF docs that are on my to-see list. What are yours?

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Montiacmoxie

    ARTIFACT. Definitely THE one to watch.

    • Doc Soup Man

      For those not in the know, here’s the Toronto Film Fest’s description of Artifact: Telling harsh truths about the modern music business, Artifact gives intimate access to singer/actor Jared Leto and his band Thirty Seconds to Mars as they battle their label in a brutal lawsuit and record their album This Is War. The film is a true artifact of our times, as its subjects struggle with big questions over art, money and integrity. 

  • Nosharia4us

    2016 is the one we all need to see.

    • Doc Soup Man