2011 Toronto International Film Festival logo

The Toronto International Film Festival’s 2011
documentary slate included new films from
Werner Herzog, Nick Broomfield, Jessica Yu and
Morgan Spurlock, among others.

It seems like every year someone says, in one way or another, that “documentaries are grabbing a larger share of the spotlight than usual” about that particular year’s Toronto International Film Festival. And so it was written once again (on the Reuters wire, this time), about the festival that concluded this past weekend.

Which is not to say it wasn’t again very much true.

It was in glaring evidence on both the red carpet and in business meetings, from the opening night (featuring a documentary!) to noteworthy doc acquisitions. Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim’s From The Sky Down, about rock gods U2, took the honor of being the first documentary to open TIFF, while Samuel Goldwyn Films elbowed IFC, Magnolia and Sony Pictures Classics out of the way to nab the first acquisition of the 11-day event, the North American rights to Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, a documentary about the late fashion editor of Harpers Bazaar. Expect another ultimately worshipful tribute, a la The September Issue and Valentino: The Last Emperor, from Lisa Immordino Vreeland (wife of Vreeland’s grandson), Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Frederic Tcheng.

Among the many high-profile docs that premiered at the festival, here are some that I am most looking forward to seeing in the coming months:

Into the Abyss

Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams) proves again there’s no subject off limits to him as his peculiar lens probes a triple murder that took place in small town in Texas 10 years ago.

Sarah Palin – You Betcha! (Trailer)

Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney, Battle for Haditha) depicts Sarah Palin going to her home state of Alaska. He reveals her as he sees her, despite the wariness of the people there unwilling to talk with him.

Last Call at the Oasis (Trailer)

Jessica Yu has always held my interest since her fantastic In the Realms of the Unreal, and here she returns with a dynamic exploration of the global water crisis, interviewing experts and… comedian Jack Black!

Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope

Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) puts his lefty, fun-guy spin on the fanboy culture conference in San Diego. This film may not change lives, but it could be a kick.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Trailer)

Speaking of changing lives, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky return with the happy (if, at the time, unfinished — the completed film will premiere at the New York Film Festival) conclusion to the case of the West Memphis Three — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. — who were recently exonerated after being in jail for two decades for the horrific murder of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas.

The Last Gladiators

Like Herzog, Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) shows his range by examining the world of hockey fighters, looking into the grim reality behind those explosive bursts on ice.

Crazy Horse

Legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman (High School, Titicut Follies, La Danse – Le Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris) enters the famous Parisian strip club — oh, excuse me, “cabaret” — for what will no doubt be his biggest selling film of all time!

There were plenty of other noteworthy docs screening in Toronto, including In My Mother’s Arms, about an orphanage in Baghdad’s Sadr City, to Samsara, the spiritual nature doc from the makers of Baraka. But the best news of all, I’d say, was behind the screen: the emergence of a new independent distributor, Adopt Films.

It’s always great to hear that someone’s willing to take new risks in the business of showing documentaries. The new company, led by October Films co-founder Jeff Lipsky and former exhibitor Tim Grady, came out of the gate strong at the festival with their first acquisition, the documentary The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye from French-American filmmaker Marie Losier. The film will screen in early 2012.

Were you at this year’s Toronto film festival? Which documentaries would you recommend?

Get more news about upcoming documentary films on POV’s blog, Twitter @povdocs or Facebook.

Published by

Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen