Doc Blog

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...


Madina on Farmer's Requiem
Director Ramses Madina discusses his film Farmer's Requiem: With a contemplative pace, Farmer's Requiem studies the effects of time on the icons of agriculture. The hauntingly beautiful decay of farms and barren fields are echoed in the fading considerations of Victor McGregor, a farmer at the end of his days. Farmer's Requiem was filmed over a period of three summers beginning in the summer of 2002. The entire filmmaking experience was a unique one that involved labour intensive shots filmed using a specially modified Bell...


Painting a Family Portrait

The documentary My Kid Could Paint That just screened this afternoon at the Scotiabank theatre.  Director Amir Bar-Lev (pictured right) introduces us to Marla Olmstead; a four year old girl whose paintings cause a stir in the media. 

It started with a story written by a local journalist in the local newspaper.  Soon after, the New York Times gets a lead on this story and posts its own.  Almost overnight, Marla is sensationalized as a child prodigy by some, although her mother (Laura) dislikes the phrase child prodigy

Mark Olmstead (Marla's...


Through the Looking Glass

Last night was the opening screening for Scott Hicks's documentary Glass: A portrait of Philip in twelve parts.  The director took time to introduce the film, which is a very intimate look at the life of prolific composer Philip Glass. The composer turns 70 this year; thus, this is quite the honour to bestow on such occasion.

The feel throughout the film is that of a private conversation.  Hicks takes us through Glass' typical day at work, his vacation home in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; he even takes us on tour with him...


Bill Maher on RELIGULOUS
Bill Maher and director Larry Charles (Borat) will take the stage on Sunday for a special Mavericks discussion. Here are Maher's thoughts on his new work-in-progress RELIGULOUS:

Since starting on Politically Incorrect in 1993, it has been my pleasure over the last decade and a half to make organized religion one of my favorite targets.  I often explained to people, “I don’t need to make fun of religion, it makes fun of itself.”  And, then I go ahead and make fun of it too, just for laughs.

With religious fanatics like George Bush...


Michael Moore on the road again

Ryerson theatre was filled to capacity tonight for the premiere of Michael Moore's latest documentary Captain Mike Across America.  The crowd received Moore with the utmost admiration, as reflected by the loud applause when he entered the theatre.

This film shows Moore's journey through 66 American cities just weeks before the 2004 presidential election. The energy throughout the film transfers to the viewer, as you get Moore's sense of urgency in electing a new president; someone who will bring the troops home from Iraq and who will make the necessary changes to make...


A Music Lesson

Today's screening of Joy Division certainly leaves you feeling various emotions.  The film, directed by Grant Gee (pictured here), describes the forming of the band, its history and that of its band members, especially lead singer Ian Curtis.

Curtis is central to this film.  His lyrics were fueled by the economic state of where he lived and had grown up, Manchester, England.  Curtis's words also make mention of his anguish and emotional pain.  Throughout the film, Gee juxtaposes interviews -- with the band members, former producers, friends and in the case of...


Schroeder's film Terror's Advocate had its North American premiere today. The director was unable attend the festival but here is an insightful interview by David D'Arcy. 

In the interview, D'Arcy decribes that: "Schroeder knows monsters when he sees them. He has made films about Idi Amin and Klaus von Bulow, and the director admits that Verges's clients are even more monstrous. His film is an interview with Verges, who can talk his way into and around any subject, in a French that seems to...


In one of yesterday’s postings on the CBC website, Martin Morrow highlights the themes dealt with in several documentaries in this year’s festival.  He mentions: “Politics and music are the overriding passions of the world’s non-fiction filmmakers today — at least judging by the documentaries in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.”  One of the musical legends’ story is that of Maria Callas (shown here).


Larry Charles on RELIGULOUS
Director Larry Charles (Borat) will take the stage on Sunday for a special Mavericks discussion with Bill Maher. Here are his thoughts on his new work-in-progress RELIGULOUS:
Ok.  An old God, a very buff old God that lives in space decides to create the first man from earth dust, then makes a woman from that man’s rib.  They get to live forever if they don’t eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, but the woman is tricked into eating a piece by a talking snake and all...


Glass, Part 6
On the making of GLASS: a portrait of Philip in twelve parts: All in all, making this film has been a return to my roots as a filmmaker - pursuing an idea of personal passion, living it by the skin of your teeth, figuring out the financing and maintaining the persistence of vision you need to realise the dream.  I've enjoyed returning to the documentary form of story telling after more than a decade away from it - with all its unexpected developments, frustrations and delights.

Looking Back on Trumbo
Looking back on the making of TRUMBO, two things stand out for me. One is Trumbo's charisma on screen.  Irrespective of the subject matter, his age, or health, and he was quite frail near the end of his life, he was mesmerizing.

Despite the repetitious grind that editing can be, I always looked forward to Trumbo's interviews.  He was eloquent, he was funny, and he had the best deadpan delivery this side of Jack Benny.

For those who don't know it, I also recommend checking out Trumbo's brief but memorable film appearances...


Hollywood History

Director Arthur Dong and actress Nancy Kwan (pictured here) presented the first screening of Hollywood Chinese on Thursday night.  The film depicts the various roles of Asian Americans in Hollywood films since 1916!

The documentary focuses on the roles of Asian Americans throughout Hollywood history.  Dong includes interviews with several Asian actors and filmmakers, as well as archived footage of many films.  The film mentions the several stereotype roles created for Asians and how during a certain period, Caucasians played these roles. 

In the question and answer session afterwards,...


Personal and Powerful

Thursday's screening of Rebellion: The Litvinenko Case was moving and riveting.  The well attended screening at the Varsity had the audience’s full attention throughout the entire film.  At times generating visceral reactions, this film showcased Litvinenko’s reasons for uncovering the corruption in the Russian government and its secret agencies (FSB and KGB).

Through personal interviews, director Andrei Nekrosov (shown right with Thom Powers) was able to paint a picture of the political and economical situation that corrupts Russia today.  He conversed with philosphers, journalists, former and current special agents, Litvinenko's wife...


Glass, Part 5
On the making of GLASS: a portrait of Philip in twelve parts: Finance remained a pressing issue but ultimately, the full budget was raised from a small group of private investors in my hometown of Adelaide, South Australia. And there were others who became enthused with my vision for this film, enabling it to happen.  Oasis Post has hosted the editing of three of my movies. They devised a post-production path that allowed the film to be pulled together efficiently with the best technology, despite being shot on multiple...


The race begins!
As TIFF begins today, the race to see as many provocative and varied films also begins.

The line up at this year's Reel To Reel program promises to be varied, challenging, and educational. One of the major focus in this year's documentary line up is that of the social and political atmosphere in several countries around the globe.

It will be interesting to see how the films such as Darfur Now, (Don Cheadle; one of the major activists in the area pictured here)Rebellion: the...


Islam has the fundamental concept of the greater "Jihad", an "inner struggle" - one often ignored in the narrow interpretation of the word as "holy war", beamed into your home daily-courtesy the friendly folk at Fox and friends.

As the gay and Muslim director/producer of a A Jihad for Love I am faced with the choice that all Muslims must make today. Are we going to allow our own communities' volatile bigots (definitely a minority) define our religion for us? Or are we...


Glass, Part 4
On the making of GLASS: a portrait of Philip in twelve parts: As the material accumulated - more than 120 hours of it - the pressing question for me became "How on earth am I going to edit this thing?" Enter Steve Jess - a fine editor I had worked with in New York on various commercials. Steve offered to give up his day-job at post-production company Whitehouse for seven months (and they generously agreed) and applied his extraordinary energy to this project.  Using cineSync software created in Adelaide by Rising...


On Glass, Part 3
In 1997, while I was editing “Snow Falling On Cedars” I used a track of Philip’s music as “temp” (what filmmaker hasn’t?) for a powerful sequence we were working on.  I made contact with his publishing company Dunvagen to enquire about licensing the track, and formed a connection with his manager Jim Keller.  It was Jim who encouraged the start of a relationship between Philip and myself, and over the next few years I enjoyed a number of his performances from Los Angeles to Sydney, taking both my sons to see Philip and...


Pint-Sized Pollock
On the making of My Kid Could Paint That:
Next week I'll be in Toronto to present, My Kid Could Paint That, a documentary about Marla Olmstead, an internationally acclaimed four-year-old painter. Marla's abstract paintings sold for as much as $25,000 a piece, but when her father was accused of secretly authoring the paintings, their value plummeted overnight.

Paskowitz Invasion!
On the making of Surfwise: Damn! It’s too late to change the title of my film, isn’t it? The masters are done, the graphics are in, the Festival catalog is printed. The date for my first-ever world premiere at Toronto is set and locked. 9/11… But looking over the list of profound and political doc titles that are premiering at TIFF—they all look so incredibly powerful— I kind of feel like a little bag of Cheetos sitting in the organic produce aisle at Whole...


W. Wilder Knight II is a New York-based entertainment attorney. His diverse practice includes brokering deals for documentary financing on titles such as "Mad Hot Ballroom" and "The A to Z of Soccer" written and produced by John Cleese. Here are his thoughts on our industry survey.

1) What changes do you see in the documentary marketplace?

I'm seeing more direct distribution by individual filmmakers to their audiences. Many films simply cannot find homes and many filmmakers who do receive offers from tv and cable stations reject those...


Cara Mertes moved from the indie-doc PBS series P.O.V. to Sundance last
year to run the Sundance Documentary Film Program, a resource for contemporary- issue filmmakers worldwide. Since then, she has revamped the granting categories, increased the amounts available to artists, added year-round support initiatives and laid the groundwork for a new web site and new partnerships to aid funded artists in their work. Five Sundance DFP films will be premiering at TIFF, including Please Vote for Me, Dinner with the President, Iron Ladies of Liberia, (more...)

Michaelle McLean oversees the Toronto Documentary Forum, an annual spring event at Hot Docs where doc makers pitch their projects to broadcasters in front of an audience. It resembles a game show, but it's become an effective means for filmmakers to navigate the complex world of international co-productions. From her vantage point, McLean tracks docs long before they're finished. Here are her picks for docs at TIFF this year:

Yahoo, I'll be in town for almost all of TIFF for the first time in several years...


Meet the Press
Click these links quick because they may turn into pay per views in the next couple weeks. Early previews of the Festival are starting to begin. Time magazine's dedicated cineaste Richard Corliss offers up his top ten titles to watch out for, including the doc Body of War. Roger Ebert jokes that he feels paralyzed looking at the new TIFF catalogue - the biggest ever - and all its offerings. The Toronto Star publishes its annual survey by Peter Howell of film insiders picking the most "buzz-worthy"...


Joshua Rothkopf, who writes about film for Time Out New York and other publications, weighs in with his most anticipated titles from this year's doc line-up.

Last year, when he was surveyed by Indiewire for  his top picks of 06 he listed the TIFF entry Pervert's Guide to Cinema as among the best undistributed titles of the year. Now you can purchase the Pervert's DVD from the film's web site. Here are Rothkopf's picks for this year:



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