Check one, Check two.
This September’s Toronto International Film Festival announced its documentary slate this morning (click here for the full list) and programmer Thom Powers might as well have sung it with a guitar strapped to his shoulder. The festival is turning things up to eleven with a wide selection of music docs, including legendary filmmaker Barbara Kopple’s Miss Sharon Jones!, about the R & B singer who battled cancer; for the strings section, there’s The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble; Amazing Grace is a Sydney Pollack’s posthumous look at Aretha Franklin’s best selling album in a film never before released; hipsters will want to see The Refelktor Tapes, about the band Arcade Fire, one of their own; and then there’s the one I most want to see: Janis: Little Girl Blue, about rock legend Janis Joplin.
“The selection reflects a boom year for music documentaries which we saw start earlier this year [Amy, Simone],” Powers told me this morning. “I decided I could not take another music documentary. And then I saw Thru You Princess [about composer Kutiman, a viral sensation], and that film won me over despite my resolve.”
Don’t worry, there are a lot of other intriguing docs to choose from. High on everyone’s list will be Davis Guggenheim’s He Named Me Malala, about the valiant young Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who was almost killed by Taliban thugs. And straight from the headlines, Je Suis Charlie is about the terrible terrorist attack on the French satirists, which should also be a hot ticket.
As for me, I’m most excited to see Sherpa, about the locals who help foreigners climb Mount Everest. Australian director Jennifer Peedom was making the film about the sherpas in 2014 when tragedy struck, and sixteen were killed, causing a showdown between wealthy climbers and the people who serve them.
And I’m most curious about musician Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog, about the death of her husband, Lou Reed and her dog, Lolabelle, which Powers calls, “one of the most unique films at the festival. It’s personal, philosophical, funny, essayistic and in the same way that Laurie Anderson is a performer whom you can’t pigeonhole, so is the film.” Update: In Laurie Anderson’s film, I’m told Lou Reed’s presence is more secondary; in the foreground is her dog Lolabelle.
And when is a documentary not even in the documentary lineup? When it’s directed by Michael Moore, and comes out of nowhere. The uber-director’s Where to Invade Next, was made in secret and is going to premiere on opening night. “He stands in a category by himself,” says Powers. The film is being described as focusing on the NSA and the military industrial complex and Powers is keeping mum. “It’s very funny. There’s very little I will tell you about the film,” he says, although he’s willing to tell me that it is “completely different” from CitizenFour. It’s also “completely different from Birdman,” he says, with a laugh. We’ll just have to go see it. Update: In Michael Moore’s new doc, speculation, such as mine, that the film is about the NSA is misleading. It is, apparently, more broadly about America’s relationship to the world.