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Back to Reality

Today is the last day of the festival, which means tomorrow is "rest day" and Monday is back to reality.   For some of us, the last ten days have included no sleep, a lot of coffee but lots of great films.

Having had the chance to write for this blog, I was able to see some amazing documentaries.  Some of the films I saw were already on my list of "must see;" for instance, Encounters at the End of the World, Trumbo, Captain Mike Across America,...


Why Democracy

The last installment in the Doc Talk series was Why Democracy; where Thom Powers discussed the making of this collection of films with Nick Fraser from the BBC and another commissioning editor in the program. 

The collection is titled Why Democracy because it deals with films from around the world on the topic of democracy, what it is and how does it affect societies which are just instituting a democracy.  There are ten films; three of them were shown at this year's festival: Iron Ladies of Liberia, Dinner with...


Covering War

On the second of the Doc Talk series, Covering War, we had a chance to listen to Phil Donahue, Ellen Spiro and Michel Tucker discuss the rewards and challenges of making documentaries about war and its consequences.

Donahue and Spiro premiered their documentary Body of War at this year's festival.  Donahue stated that after watching the Iraq War vote on C-SPAN in 2002, he wanted to do something to voice his concern for the state of affairs in the United States.  He said he was in "shock...


Doc Corner: Exchange of Ideas

The Reel to Reel program has set up a meeting place, Doc Corner, for documentary filmmakers to meet with distributors and others in the industry to discuss upcoming projects, pitch ideas and simply make connections.

Doc Corner took place over three days.  There were representatives from various film companies like ThinkFilm, Sony Pictures Classic and Cinetic.  The meetings were set up for 10 minutes for each individual.  I spoke with a young filmmaker and she told me how great these meetings were.  She said it gave her a chance to discuss her ideas with someone...


Casualties of War

Tuesday night, September 11, the world premiere of Body of War took place. The film, a project directed by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue, is the story of Iraq war veteran Tomas Young.  This young man was shot after having been in Iraq a mere five weeks; the bullet wound left him paralysed from the neck down. During the film, the audience was full of emotion.  The film is powerful; there is no other way to describe it.  Tomas was very candid about his situation and how his decision to enlist,...


Complicated Lives

The series Doc Talks was open to public audiences this year.  Each one gives us a chance to hear what filmmakers encounter while creating a documentary.  This year, the series has three foci: biographies, filming war and politics.

The first talk dealt with filming biographies; hence, its title Complicated Lives.  The biographies showcased at this year's Reel to Reel program have exposed us to individuals who have been blacklisted, exiled from their homes, achieved amazing success in their craft and in their personal lives.  The panel consisted of Peter Askin (director of (more...)

Young Girls Speak Out

The film Very Young Girls introduces us to the cold hard facts of child sexual exploitation in the United states.  The director, David Schisgall and his team, follow the women who work at GEMS (Girls Education and Mentoring Services) and the girls who use their services.  The reality is that girls as young as thirteen are trapped in the cycle of sexual abuse at the hands of their pimps.

After the screening, Schisgall was joined by his co-directors, a social worker from GEMS and one of the girls in the film, Shaquana.  Someone...


Night is not so dark

Some documentaries have found a home in the Visions program; one of them is the film Night by Lawrence Johnston (pictured here).  This film offers an interesting look at people's views about night; its meaning and effect on the human experience.

After the film, Thom Powers (RTR programmer) asked: How do you construct a film like this? Johnston said he was inspired by his love of photography.  He wanted to make a cinematic film, which had photographic vision.  Johnston shot the film continuously over a year. What is an amazing aspect of this film is...


A Writer's Words

Dalton Trumbo is now well-known for several award-winning screenplays. In Trumbo, director Peter Askin (pictured here) took on the challenge of making a documentary about this famous, once blacklisted writer.

The film, however, is not about being blacklisted per se.  It is about the life, the work and the family man behind this infamous name.  Askin combines footage from family videos, clips from movies in which Trumbo worked and clips of many actors portraying Trumbo's letters.  The effect is a complex yet intimate portrayal of Trumbo's story.



Herzog takes us to the South Pole

Last night was the premiere of Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World; his latest project.  It seems there is no territory that Herzog (shown right) will leave unexplored.

In this film, Herzog does all the narration as well as some camera and sound work.  He starts out by taking us on board the plane that brings him to Antarctica, then introduces us to many of the people who live and work on this continent.  There is an art to Herzog's work; he is able to have intimate moments with...


Living to the Fullest

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to attend the Maverick session Everything to Gain: A Conversation with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.   This was a chance to hear what President Carter and his wife have been doing since he left office over twenty years ago.  The conversation was moderated by Allan Gregg from TVO; it was also taped so that it can be aired at a later date on said station.

Where does one begin to describe all that the Carters have been able to accomplish?  Well, the most important thing would be to...


The main character of my movie has never seen it. He’s the legendary Doc Paskowitz and he’s been refusing all along. But last night he flew into Toronto and, if he can bear it, he’s going to see the movie tonight at the world premiere. It might be hard for him to get up and walk out of the theater before it’s over, because he’ll be flanked by his nine grown kids (many of them are big and strong), his wife Juliette (she’s...


Tragic Hero

Last night, some of us were introduced to the life story of publisher Barney Rosset in the documentary Obscene.  Rosset was the creator of Grove Press which brought many important works to America, like Waiting for Godot, Naked Lunch, The Diary of Che Guevarra and The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Directors Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O’Connor (pictured here) take us on a journey through archived footage of Rosset's radio and television interviews along with family videos and interviews with Rosset today.  His life is nothing short of amazing; he experienced a lot of ups...


Time to Relax and Mingle

Discovery Films arranged for a party to celebrate the launch of Werner Herzog's (shown here) latest documentary Encounters at the End of the World, screening at this year's festival.

Herzog's latest project takes him to the depths of the South Pole in Antarctica. It appears there is a lot of interest in this documentary. We will have to see where his journey will take us.

The soiree also allowed other filmmakers (director Scott Hicks pictured here) to enjoy each other's company, perhaps talk a little film but I think...


Let's Talk about Darfur

Yesterday afternoon we had the pleasure to hear a panel (pictured here)composed of Adam Sterling (Co-founder, Sudan Divestment Task Force), Don Cheadle (actor/activist), Ted Braun (director, Darfur Now), Cathy Schulman (producer, Darfur Now), and Mark Jonathan Harris (producer, Darfur Now) discuss the status of Darfur today.  The discussion titled The Time is Now: A Conversation about Darfur is part of the Mavericks sessions presented at this year's festival.

The session began with a speech by Luis Moreno-Ocampo (Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at the Hague).  His words were meant to...


Play on Playa'

Jessica Yu's first narrative feature Ping Pong Playa' showed today at the Varsity theatre.  The film depicts the story a young Chinese-American man, "C-dub" as he is known to his friends, who has yet to find a path in life.  He is eventually asked to represent his family at a major ping pong tournament because his brother, the present champion, is injured. The time comes for C-dub to grow up and take control.  The film is funny, moving and an honest portrayal of a young man looking for direction...


One of today's Maverick sessions was a candid conversation with Bill Maher and Larry Charles on their upcoming film Religulous.

The sold-out session began with clips from the film.  Thus, setting the stage for a very open conversation about religion, politics and the connection between the two.  Moderated by RTR programmer, Thom Powers, he began by asking why make this film?  Charles called it a "passion project," which turned out to be more ambitious than they thought.

To give us more background information, Maher and Charles shared some tidbits about their upbringing.  On the...


Last night, at the premier screening of the outstanding doc "Heavy 
Metal in Baghdad
," I sat next to Waleed Rabia, who was the first
singer in the Iraqi metal band the film profiles.  (I met him in Baghdad in 2004, and some of the footage I shot there is in the  film.)Waleed was luckier than his bandmates -- he now attends film school in British Colombia. But last night he was emotionally shaken watching the heart-breaking story of his old friends who are still suffering in the middle east.Sitting next to Waleed...


Growing up on the Kibbutz

Children of the Sun, a film by Ran Tal showed last night to at the Cumberland theatre.  In this very intimate look at the history of children born on the  kibbutzim, the audience is taken down memory lane with video footage taken from 1930-1970 along with photographs that depicted what life was like in this setting.

The director himself was born on a kibbutz; thus, this account is also a way of telling his own childhood story.  This film shows the "good and bad," according to Tal, of growing up in...


The first screening of Man of Cinema: Pierre Rissient by Todd McCarthy (shown here) showed this evening.  Many people are still not aware of this man's influence in the world of cinema

Rissient has introduced Hou Hsiao-hsien, Quentin Tarantino and Chen Kaige among many others to the world.  The film, like other documentaries in this program, takes a personal look at this man's life, his work, his friendships and relationships with some of the biggest names in the industry.  We get a glimpse of Rissient's many connections and towards the end...


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