The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival announced its documentary slate — which may be 20 percent smaller — but is so power packed that it may well provide the tipping point for awards season. The festival tends to be a part of the talk about which docs will be making the trip to the Oscars (it shook things up last year with the premiere of I Am Not Your Negro), and this year it’s looking to have an even deeper impact. Here’s a highlight reel of the top docs I’m eager to see that are heading north:
Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat by Sara Driver.
Sara Driver explores the pre-fame years of the celebrated American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and how New York City, its people, and tectonically shifting arts culture of the late 1970s and ’80s shaped his vision.
The China Hustle by Jed Rothstein.
An unsettling and eye-opening Wall Street horror story about Chinese companies, the American stock market, and the opportunistic greed behind the biggest heist you’ve never heard of.
Ex Libris – The New York Public Library by Frederick Wiseman.
Legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman (In Jackson Heights, National Gallery) takes his cameras within the walls of the New York Public Library.
(North American Premiere)
The Final Year by Greg Barker.
Greg Barker gives an unprecedented look at the shaping of US foreign policy by following key members of outgoing US President Barack Obama’s administration.
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami by Sophie Fiennes.
Filmed over the course of a decade, the new documentary from director Sophie Fiennes (The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology) offers a stylish and unconventional look at the Jamaican-born model, singer, and New Wave icon.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – the story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman featuring a very special, contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton by Chris Smith.
Offbeat documentarian Chris Smith provides a behind-the-scenes look at how Jim Carrey adopted the persona of idiosyncratic comedian Andy Kaufman on the set of Man on the Moon.
(North American Premiere)
Jane by Brett Morgen.
Academy Award–nominated director Brett Morgen (On the Ropes) reconstitutes 50-year-old National Geographic footage into a poetic look at primatologist Jane Goodall, set to a magnificent score by Philip Glass.
Love Means Zero by Jason Kohn.
Infamous and influential tennis coach Nick Bollettieri has trained generations of champions, but that greatness comes at a personal price, in the second film from provocative director Jason Kohn (Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)).
One of Us by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady.
Oscar-nominated documentarians Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp) penetrate the insular world of New York’s Hasidic community, focusing on three individuals driven to break away despite threats of retaliation.
Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me by Sam Pollard.
A star-studded roster of interviewees (including Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal) pay tribute to the legendary, multi-talented song-and-dance man, in this exhilarating addition to the American Masters series.
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood by Matt Tyrnauer.
A deliciously scandalous portrait of unsung Hollywood legend Scotty Bowers, whose bestselling memoir chronicled his decades spent as sexual procurer to the stars.
Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! by Morgan Spurlock.
Muckraking filmmaker Morgan Spurlock reignites his battle with the food industry — this time from behind the register — as he opens his own fast food restaurant.
Pretty impressive, right? Look at those world premieres! The documentary portion of the festival (September 7 – 17) is run by Thom Powers, who got on the phone and agreed with me that it is nice to see an all-star cast of seasoned vanguard directors. We were talking about the filmmakers who made a splash ten or more years ago, and appear to be firing on all cylinders here: people like Chris Smith, Morgan Spurlock, Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing and Brett Morgen. It’s particularly exciting to see Jason Kohn, who wowed many of us with Manda Bala in 2007, but hasn’t made a feature doc since then. His film Love Means Zero is a portrait of famous and infamous tennis coach Nick Bollettieri.
Chris Smith’s film about Jim Carrey and Andy Kaufman looks like another trip into rich character study. “It’s an exploration of personas and the acting life,” Powers tells me. I’m equally stoked to see Jane, Brett Morgen’s film about Jane Goodall, who revolutionized our understanding of chimpanzees. Morgen is an electrifying filmmaker so I’m optimistic this will be a great ride. “It’s absolutely stunning,” Powers says. “I think it’s one of the films playing at the festival that will change the conversation about awards contenders.”
Indeed, it looks like there are a number of such films, including The Final Year, which is supposed to be a revealing look into President Obama’s last year in office. And if Spurlock can maintain his return to form after his super fine Rats, perhaps Super Size Me 2 can provoke both box office success as well as an Oscar nomination.
It appears less is more this year in Toronto.
The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival is from September 7 – 17.