Toronto Film Fest Ramps Up Documentary Lineup After COVID Cutbacks, Booking Films From Laura Poitras and Werner Herzog

The Toronto Intl. Film Festival’s Docs program gets underway Sept. 8 and will feature 22 nonfiction films — a hefty 57% increase from last year’s lineup, which was cut back to 14 due to COVID.

Notable titles include Oscar winner Laura Poitras’ “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” which is pictured above and making its Canadian premiere following a world premiere at the Venice Film Festival; “Blackfish” director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s latest docu “The Grab” and veteran filmmaker’s Werner Herzog’s “Theatre of Thought.”

Sacha Jenkins’s “Armstrong’s Black & Blues” will serve as TIFF Docs’ opening film.

Thom Powers, lead TIFF documentary programmer, winnowed the list of 22 from 700 submissions. While constructing this year’s program, Powers noticed various themes emerge across submissions, one being being the act of resistance.

“Cowperthwaite’s “The Grab,” which she has been making for seven years under a lot of secrecy, follows journalist Nathan Halverson as he undertakes a deep investigative look at the increasing land grab that’s taking place by governments who are recognizing that their resources for food and water are running out,” says Powers. “So, they’re trying to seize land in other countries to supplement their own supplies. That’s a really strong film about resistance.”

Another TIFF docu exploring opposition is Sinéad O’Shea’s “Pray for Our Sinners,” about the director’s small Irish town outside of Dublin and the individuals who resisted the intense control of the Catholic Church around issues including women’s control of their own reproductive rights and corporal punishment in schools.

Powers also cites Poitras’ “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” as an example of a docu in this year’s lineup that contends with resistance.

Poitras’ film examines two interconnected stories, the life and career of artist Nan Goldin and the downfall of the Sackler family, the pharmaceutical dynasty Goldin personally took on in her fight to hold accountable those responsible for the spread of opioids and the addiction that has followed in their wake.

“A throughline in the film is Nan’s work protesting the Sackler family’s patronage of our museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and Louvre,” says Powers. “She led an organization called P.A.I.N. that had real consequences in getting museums to take down the names of the Sacklers in some prominent spaces.”

This year’s TIFF Doc lineup also features films profiling feminists.

Examples include Tamana Ayazi and Marcel Mettelsiefen’s “In Her Hands,” about Afghanistan’s youngest female mayor, Zarifa Ghafari, and Stephanie Johnes’ “Maya and the Wave,” about champion surfer Maya Gabeira as she is trying to set a world record for riding the biggest while facing sexism in the world of surfing.

Powers also points to Daniel Zarvos and Liliane Mutt Miúcha’s “The Voice of Bossa Nova” as another feminist-oriented TIFF docu.

It centers on a singer named Miúcha, who for a long time was living in the shadow of her husband, João Gilberto. Despite her talents, she was expected to put Gilberto’s career first while mothering their child Bebel Gilberto, also a well-known contemporary singer.

“We watch Miúcha have to come to her feminist awakening and let her own talent shine,” says Powers.

Other docs in the lineup focus on artists. William Kentridge’s nine-part “Self-Portrait as a Coffee Pot,” centers on Kentridge’s creativity during the pandemic, while Tanya Tagaq’s collaboration with Chelsea McMullan, “Ever Deadly,” incorporates concert footage of Tagaq.

The 22 selected films stem from a wide variety of countries, including Canada, France, Kenya, the United States, Afghanistan, and Chile.

“It has always been a mandate of our programming to be as internationally wide standing as possible,” says Powers” I think this remains consistent with past years.”

Netflix is backing “In Her Hands,” but several high profile, award season contenders including Poitras’ “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” Cowperthwaite’s “The Grab” and Herzog’s “Theatre of Thought,” are all looking for distribution.

The full list of the TIFF Docs lineup follows:

“752 Is Not a Number,” Babak Payami. World Premiere

“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” Laura Poitras. Canadian Premiere

“Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On,” Madison Thomas. World Premiere

“Casa Susanna,” Sébastien Lifshitz. North American Premiere

“Ciné-Guerrillas: Scenes from the Labudovic Reels,” Mila Turajlic. World Premiere

“The Colour of Ink,” Brian D. Johnson. World Premiere

“Documentary Now!,” Alex Buono, Rhys Thomas, Micah Gardner. World Premiere

“Ever Deadly,” Tanya Tagaq, Chelsea McMullan. World Premiere

“Free Money,” Sam Soko, Lauren DeFilippo. World Premiere

“Mariupolis 2,” Mantas Kvedaravičius. North American Premiere

“The Grab,” Gabriela Cowperthwaite. World Premiere

“In Her Hands,” Tamana Ayazi, Marcel Mettelsiefen. World Premiere

“Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues,” Sacha Jenkins. World Premiere

“Maya and the Wave,” Stephanie Johnes. World Premiere

“Miúcha, The Voice of Bossa Nova,” Daniel Zarvos, Liliane Mutti. Canadian Premiere

“My Imaginary Country (Mi País Imaginario),” Patricio Guzmán. North American Premiere

“Patrick and the Whale,” Mark Fletcher. World Premiere

“Pray for Our Sinners,” Sinéad O’Shea. World Premiere

“Self-Portrait as a Coffee Pot,” William Kentridge. World Premiere

“Theatre of Thought,” Werner Herzog. International Premiere

“To Kill a Tiger,” Nisha Pahuja. World Premiere

“While We Watched,” Vinay Shukla. World Premiere

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