Doc Blog

My whirlwind 48 hours in Toronto was too short by about a week. What an incredible festival! It was my first time at TIFF, but whether I ever have another film there or not, it certainly won't be my last. The enthusiasm, the energy and the excitement of being with so many people from around the world who share a love and appreciation for the art form created an inspiring vibe. Next time, I want to spend a week at TIFF just going to movies.

Looking back on the week since we screened The U.S. vs. John Lennon at Toronto, there is...


More Internet Coverage of TIFF Docs
On Tuesday, Anthony Kaufman (left) interviewed Michael Tucker (The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair) in the first of the Doc Talks series, sponsored by HBO Documentary Films, held at Toronto's Fifth Elementt restaurant.

Kaufman wrote several dispatches from the festival for Indiewire, including this blog entry
on Blindsight and Killer Within.

Here are other recent Internet reports on TIFF docs...

Dave Kehr reviews the Chinese documentary Dong

Twitch interviews director JT Petty on S&MAN.

Director AJ Schnack chronicles his TIFF...


Wyclef Plays at TIFF Party

Hip-hop superstar Wyclef Jean played to a pumped-up crowd at the Ghosts of Cité Soleil premiere after-party last Saturday. Jean helped write the score for Ghosts, a film based in his native Haiti. The film follows the story of 2pac and Bily, brothers who are two of many gang leaders reputedly hired by former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to dispose of his enemies. Director Asger Leth presents an intimate portrayal of these thugs, not just in their street lives, but also in their love lives as they both fall for the...


Everyone has heard of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, but few Westerners have seen much of the Iranian cinema and its impact on the country over the past sixty years. Director Nader Takmil Homayoun (right) decided to breathe life into the rich history of his native land's film industry with Iran: Une Révolution cinématographique, which made its premiere tonight to a sold out crowd at the Al Green theatre.

Iranian cinema has largely been off the North American radar, perpetuating an image in the West that Iranians are people of prayer and...


Forget CNN, Just Watch Ohio

It may not be Florida in 2000, but the state of Ohio has so much influence in American politics, many analysts, politicians and citizens alike believe that "as Ohio goes the nation." Making its worldwide premiere tonight, ...So Goes the Nation presents an intimate and candid look at this phenomenon, focusing on the northern state in the '04 US presidential election. The film gives us a first hand glimpse into the lives and views of the entire political spectrum in Ohio. Everyone from the average citizen to Democratic and Republican political strategists...


Docs Go Theatrical
On Monday, the Industry Initiatives News & Views panels focused on documentary distribution. Academy Award winner Ross Kaufman (Born Into Brothels) led a discussion on theatrical releases with distributors Peter Goldwyn (Samuel Goldwyn Films), Tom Quinn (Magnolia) and Ken Eisen (Shadow Distribution).

The second panel "The Long Road to Distribution" was a case study of the film 51 Birch Street which had its world premiere at TIFF in 2005. The panel consisted of sales agent Josh Braun, executive producer John Priddy and (pictured left to right) Kelly Sanders (Truly Indie), director Doug...


Sick Humor Makes Us Well
John Waters (right) was in top form on Tuesday night during a Mavericks conversation on Vanguard Cinema  with Shortbus director John Cameron Mitchell, moderated by the film's star Sook-Yin Lee. Waters is in town to promote the new documentary This Filthy World, capturing his one man performance in which he reflects on his career with a sharp wit.
Celebrating Office Tigers
Producer Lawrence Elman and director Liz Mermin celebrate the world premiere of their film Office Tigers at a party for the film on Saturday night, held at the Tribute Lounge at the Century Room. For the film's second screening on Monday, the audience sang "Happy Birthday" to Mermin.

Yesterday, Lorrie Goldstein of the Toronto Sun praised Office Tigers in a warm review, excerpted here:

Employees working for big corporations everywhere will identify with Office Tigers harried staff as they cope with long hours, demanding bosses, early deadlines, constant retraining, jargon-filled...


Mainstream Internet reporters and bloggers have been going strong on docs at TIFF. Here are just a few of the sites with news and reviews.

David D'Arcy reports on the Dixie Chicks: Shut Up And Sing for Greencine. Earlier he covered The US vs John Lennon here.

Pictured: Dixie Chicks co-directors Cecilia Peck (left) and Barbara Kopple (right) flank band members Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Robison at yesterday's press conference for the film's world premiere Gala.

Sarah Jo Marks reflects on The...


Whew, the festival has been going strong for a week now and I've barely had time to catch my breath, nevermind blog. Then a week from today I'll return to my home base in New York City, speaking on a panel about festival programming at the IFP Filmmaker Conference and beginning the new semester teaching my Documentary Development course at New York University's School of Continuing Professional Studies. (Still time to enroll here.)

Catching up on the past week: here's a snap from Sunday's Doc Roundtables, a new...


A full house gathered at the ROM today for the premiere screening of My Life as a Terrorist: The Story of Hans-Joachim Klein. The film follows the life of Klein, a German man who went from being a left-wing radical to being linked to the murders of OPEC officials in 1975. Klein describes this transition and reveals how he feels the terrorist organization used and manipulated him.

Stock footage and photographs are used along with recent footage of Klein on a trip back to his...


VARIETY: "Stars Left in Docs Dust"
Today, Variety reporter Steven Zeitchik writes about the dominance of documentaries at this year's TIFF. The piece begins...

It's political docs and genre pics that are making noise in Toronto -- and the stars who are getting left behind.

In the second notable deal for a political pic in two days, Abu Ghraib expose "The Prisoner, or: How I Tried to Kill Tony Blair," [above] pacted with Netflix in a deal that will see movie get theatrical distribution through an as-yet undetermined partner.

Movie will be released in the spring to...


If you are planning to make a doc on a celebrity, the top floor of the Sutton Place hotel would have been the perfect place to be today, as the final Doc Talk featured an diverse panel discussing their use of celebrity in film. The panel featured Sophie Fiennes (The Pervert's Guide to Cinema), AJ Schnack (Kurt Cobain About a Son), Sara Berstein (HBO Documentaries), and John Scheinfeld (The US vs. John Lennon). Moderator Thom Powers began by asking the panel about challenges making their films. “Our biggest obstacle was called ‘Yoko’”, said...


The second of three Doc Talks today focused on collaboration, featuring the creators of Manufactured Landscapes discussing how a project comes toghether with such difficult creative bridges to build. The film's director Jennifer Baichwal said it was very different to look at an image through the eyes of a photographer, which she needed to do in creating this film focused on the work of famed Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky.

When Burtynsky found out a film was in the works about him, he was hesitant to be part of a project full...


Docs Discussed Over Breakfast
Doc Corner Breakfasts give directors, industry, and press a chance to mingle at TIFF. The breakfasts are running from Sunday to Wednesday, sponsored by HBO Documentary Films. Left, Shot in the Dark director Adrian Grenier discusses his film with Priya Shah from TIFF's Sales & Industry office.

Blindsight has its world premiere today at TIFF, garnering possibly the loudest and longest applause of any Real to Reel film so far at the festival. The film's director, Lucy Walker (background), documented the amazing story of six blind Tibetan children attempting to climb a 22,000 foot peak near mount Everest in 2004. The children were led by their teacher, Sabriye Tenberken, who is also visually impaired, and Erik Weihenmayer, a blind man who climbed to the top of Mount Everest.

Filled with emotion, struggle, triumph and a rousing rendintion of...


Killer After Party for Premiere

One of the best draws at TIFF every year is the parties, not just for the open bar and great food, but it's a chance for the talented people that attend the festival to mix and mingle.

This afternoon, Discovery Films hosted a party at Prego restaurant to honor their film The Killer Within and their broader sponsorship of the entire Real to Reel programme. Attendees included Killer Within director Macky Alston, seen left with the film’s Executive Producer, Andrea Meditch.

Al Maysles participated...


Kurt Cobain Speaks Out at TIFF

One of the most anticipated films of this years festival, Kurt Cobain  About a Son, made it's worldwide premiere tonight, and did not disappoint delivering a rock-umentary unlike any other. The film is based on a series of audio interviews conducted by journalist Michael Azerrad (right), allowing the voice of Kurt to speak for himself . Young director, AJ Schnack (center) made his way to the microphone to introduce a project that he said means so much to him, and it showed as Schnack could barely get his thank yous out as he got choked up in...


One of the highlights of TIFF is directors getting to meet each other as they did last night for a dinner at Pangaea restaurant. The diverse group inspired a lot of discussion about the films at the festival and filmmaking in general. Left, Liz Mermin (Office Tigers) and Adrian Grenier (Shot in the Dark) are engaged in a heated debate about filmmaking. Other guests included Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein (The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair), Sophie Fiennes (The Pervert's Guide...


Imagine a Perfect Evening
We had the privilege of screening The U.S. vs. John Lennon last night at the Ryerson Theatre. We couldn't have asked for a more receptive audience, or a more exciting evening.

After spending nearly a year making a film, it's only human to wonder if anyone other than you and your team cares about it. In the car en route to the theatre, John Scheinfeld (we wrote, directed and produced together) and I had that opening night feeling of "this is it."

We had heard that there was considerable interest in the film, but we really didn't know what to expect....


Mukhtaran Mai (left, background) made a surprise visit at the screening Shame, a work in progress which documents her remarkable story as an illiterate rape victim who has become an international spokesperson for the empowerment of women.

A few years ago, while living in her home of Meerwala, Pakistan, Mai’s brother was accused of having an affair with a woman. As a so-called "honour for honour" punishment, Mukhtaran was sentenced to be raped and then paraded around the town. Mai filed a police report and eventually took her case to the Supreme...


Rock and peace icon Yoko Ono was greeted by hundreds of fans today as she walked into the premiere of The U.S. vs. John Lennon. Many of these fans didn’t even have tickets but lined up for hours to get a glimpse of the legendary Ono. Inside, Ono received a standing ovation before the film, which was received greatly by the packed house at the Ryerson Theatre, including director Michael Moore, who also got a round of applause. The film documents the struggles John and Yoko faced from the late 60’s...


American rockers, The Flaming Lips were on the scene at TIFF for Summercamp! (left), singing to a boisterous crowd last night at the post-screening party. The Lips supplied songs for film's soundtrack and came to TIFF to support its debut.

First the Lips attended the film's debut screening, donning the blinking, neon visors, with all the enthusiasm of the outrageouly dressed directors. Later, the Lips took another stage at Gabby's on Bloor to play to a pumped up crowd who ate roasted-marshmallows and scored some...


Summercamp Makes a Splash

Child-like laughter bellowed through the ancient halls of the ROM tonight as Summercamp made its debut. The three-year project, by directors Sarah Price and Bradley Beesley, documents a delightful group of children over their three-week summer camp. Everyone left the theatre with a sense of warmth, and even got some exercise before the film as its directors and even some of its stars climbed on stage with blinking hats and fluorescent life-jackets, leading the standing audience in some musical, child-ercizing antics.

When introducing the film, TIFF doc...


Friday's premiere screening of The Prisoner: Or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair and Sari’s Mother, presented together, shocked the audience both on screen and on stage during the Q&A. The Prisoner follows the story of Yunis, an Iraqi journalist who was wrongfully detained by the American military in an Iraqi compound for 9 months.

After the film, Prisoner Director Michael Tucker read an email he received from an American soldier who had befriended Yunis at Camp Ganci where he was detained. Tucker then called former US soldier Benjamin Thompson on stage...


Michael Moore is Back!
Michael Moore has been lying low the past couple years, avoiding television appearances and public speaking. But he's chosen Toronto as the place to re-emerge. Tonight in a special TIFF Mavericks  presentation An Evening with Michael Moore he'll be showing sneak preview clips from two works-in-progress: Sicko and The Great 04 Slacker Uprising. He'll also be speaking in a discussion with Borat director Larry Charles. Here's a photo of Moore last night on the red carpet for Borat.

Ghosts of Cite Soleil (right) didn´t have months or years of pre-production behind it when we started shooting. There was no production company. There was no extensive preparing for the great mission an undertaking like this film could be. There was the prepared desire to do a certain kind of film in the right setting and there was the sudden unraveling of historic events in Haiti that invited filming and immediate action. There was a clear dramatic line of events waiting to happen.  And then there was the...


Pervert's Guide Kicks of TIFF

Director Sophie Fiennes (left) kicked off TIFF on Thursday with the North American premiere screening of her film, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, to a packed house at the ROM on Thursday. The three-part film features the witty and insightful Slavoj Žižek discussing everything from sexuality in the works of Lynch, Kubrick and Hitchcock to how film is equal to viewing shit backing up a toilet. Needless to say, Fiennes had many questions to answer in the Q & A after the screening. The director also shared anecdotes about...


While the film might be called AMERICAN HARDCORE a lot of the genre is owed to the amazing Canadian Hardcore Punk Band DOA from Vancouver. They actually coined the word Hardcore in their 1981 album "Hardcore '81" .Joey "Shithead" Keithly of DOA will be at TIFF with us as will his band DOA and the band Flipper. More on this soon....
In today's Toronto Star, writer Peter Howell looks at the TIFF films likely to stir the most controversy, including several documentary titles.

[Right: Tony Kaye's abortion documentary  Lake of Fire]

Howell quotes the Festival Co-Director and CEO Piers Handling:

"Filmmakers want to engage with the world by taking on tough subjects," Handling said in an interview yesterday. "That's for sure a theme this year. For whatever reason, there's a feeling by filmmakers that certain battles that had been fought in the past — like abortion, for example — need to be...


Todd McCarthy wrote a wrap-up of the Telluride Film Festival for Variety. Here's what he had to say about the sneak preview of a film that will have its official world premiere at TIFF...

"One docu ... that grabbed viewers by the throat and wouldn't let go: Asger Leth's Ghosts of Cité Soleil, a film whose very existence is amazing as it portrays up close and first-hand the lives of gun-waving Haitian gang leaders in the world's worst slum."
Jorgen Leth is in the House
The night before the Festival begins, the good folks at Cinematheque Ontario traditionally host a gathering for art house programmers from around the world. This year, the keynote speech was delivered by Danish filmmaker Jorgen Leth, who brought his documentary collaboration with Lars Von Trier The Five Obstructions to TIFF in 2003.

Afterward, Leth told me of his gratitude to museum and art house programmers for keeping his kind of cinema alive. On Saturday, Leth's son Asger will be premiering his documentary Ghosts of Cite Soleil with the proud father on hand for support.

Leth is pictured here with Cinematheque Ontario's...


Planning for the SUMMERCAMP! party...

...trying to get all our ducks in a row--planning a marshmallow roast is not as easy as it seems.  brad ordered the whistles and they're good to  go,  but now i think we may need more visors....
We just received word that one of the "stars" of our political documentary, a tireless grass roots campaigner for the Democrats by the name of Miles Gerety, will be attending the world premiere of our film, ".So Goes the Nation."  Miles actually drove all night from Connecticut to Ohio for those final crazy days of the campaign to try and tip the scales for the Democrats. We couldn't be happier to hear that Miles, as well his Republican counterpart Leslie Ghiz, will both be present at the World Premiere on Sept....


CBC on TIFF Documentaries

CBC reporter Matthew McKinnon interviews TIFF Documentary Programmer Thom Powers here. Below is an excerpt...

[Right: Made in Jamaica]

Q: What specific challenges were involved in shaping this year’s lineup?

A: Music-related documentaries has always been a strong genre, but this year more than ever. We have [programmed] a great range, from Kurt Cobain: About a Son to Made in Jamaica to several others, not to mention the biggest...


[TIFF will be showing Shame (left), a documentary about Pakistani activist Mukhtaran Mai, in Real to Reel as a work-in-progress. Here the director takes us behind the scenes - Ed.]

We needed a few crucial pick up shots done and I was in the middle of editing in New York. To get these pick ups, I would have had to go back to Pakistan for a few days. At that point, however, we were nine days away from the Toronto International Film Festival deadline and it wasn’t possible for...


Last Minute Finishes
The Globe and Mail reporter Jennie Punter writes today about the final bits of post-production happening in the 11th hour for TIFF films. She focuses on three titles including the documentaries EMPz 4 Life and Manufactured Landscapes (left).

Here's an excerpt:

For her documentary Manufactured Landscapes, which follows acclaimed Canadian artist Ed Burtynsky as he captures large-scale photographs of China's industrial revolution, Baichwal says the sound mix is a crucial step in creating the shape of vast spaces, like the Three Gorges Dam, for viewers. "We're experimenting to the last...


Lennon in Venice
Matt Dentler's ever-alert blog tipped me off to Peter Bradshaw's thorough coverage of the Venice Film Festival in the Guardian.

Here's an excerpt where Bradshaw discusses The US vs John Lennon, which will have its North American premiere at TIFF on Saturday, Sept 9. Bradshaw writes:

Leaf and Scheinfeld's film about Lennon seeks to retrieve him from the cynical view promoted by the 1988 Albert Goldman biography, and unapologetically cries up the former Beatle as an alternative radical and idealist. There is some telling footage of British reporters, such as Donald Zec of the...


Globe and Mail Tip Sheet
Globe and Mail writer Guy Dixon surveyed Canadian notables about the TIFF films they're awaiting.

Sook-Yin Lee, star of John Cameron Mitchell's much-discussed Shortbus, highlighted the doc Yokohama Mary (right). Read more here.

Lee will serve as the moderator of a discussion between Mitchell John Waters for the Mavericks session on Vanguard Cinema.
Toronto Star Industry Picks
The Toronto Star critic Peter Howell polled several industry luminaries about the TIFF films they're most looking forward to seeing. There were 49 picks in all. Here are some of the documentaries named...

[Right : Sugar Curtain, one of B. Ruby Rich's picks to watch]

Matt Dentler
, festival producer, South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival:

Kurt Cobain About A Son
, AJ Schnack: "I've been following this film for months and, in so many ways, it sounds like an amazing anti-rockumentary.

Office Tigers
, Liz Mermin: "An East meets West look at...


Toronto Star's Early Festival Round-Up
The Toronto Star's movie critics Peter Howell and Geoff Pevere, joined by Malene Arpe, Peter Goddard, Martin Knelman, John Terauds and Susan Walker, have previewed 80 of the entries at the Toronto International Film Festival here. Below are some of their doc entries....

[Left: from Allan King's new documentary EMPz 4 Life]

Deliver Us From Evil
To the adoring and faithful members of his various California parishes, Roman Catholic priest Oliver O'Grady was simply "Father Ollie," a man they could count on. And so it went for some 30 years, until the public learned...


Remembering Garrett Scott
It was six months ago today, on March 2, that filmmaker Garrett Scott died of a heart attack at age 37. Two days later he and his directing partner Ian Olds won an Independent Spirit Award for their gripping documentary about US soldiers in Falluja Occupation: Dreamland. In 2002, Garrett came to TIFF with his first doc Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story about a man who stole a tank off a military base in Southern California and drove it through the suburbs.

There were many memorials...


Notes on Perverts

This is not a statement, just a quick reflection, late at night from Stockwell, South London. The guy in the flat below me is playing a very insistent trance music track and the soft but predictable bass is seeping through the floorboards like the smell of cooking. Perhaps this is his revenge for all the late nights he had to suffer at my hands, hearing the recorded voice of Slavoj Zizek (left), like a Balkan Zeus, booming away from above about "Libido!" - and unintelligible vibrations through the walls with...


I love cinema verite, and Blindsight called for combining verite with interview, a rich mix. For verite scenes it's a sine qua non that the cinematographer needs to have as much patience as I do to let things unfurl in front of the camera.

[Right: Sabriye Tenberken in Blindsight]

Some DPs think it's a set-it-up- and-shoot-it-quick-and- go-for-a-beer deal, and how much do I wish it were that easy, but alas anything I've ever directed that was worth watching has required a more painstaking approach. Real life is...


When we were doing research for my film My Life as a Terrorist: The Story of Hans-Joachim Klein (right), one of the first things I did was looking for archive footage of the riots in Frankfurt in the 70's. Hans-Joachim Klein had been in numerous of these riots. He had been throwing stones at the police and he had been fighting with them.

The most famous scene, that of Klein beating up a policeman together with former German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joschka Fischer, was easy to get. But the "ordinary riots" were hard...


Check the Archives for older postings.