Friday, August 4, 2017

My TIFF Picks - Documentaries and Platform features

Over the past few years of attending TIFF, I’ve seen excellent documentaries on political heroes (girls’ education activist Malala Youfsafzai, the late urban planning activist Jane Jacobs), musicians (Arcade Fire, the late Sharon Jones) and obscure Hollywood players (the late costume designer Orry Kelly, who had a long affair with Cary Grant).

This year is no exception with famous subjects including Andy Kaufman, Eric Clapton, Grace Jones, Sammy Davis Jr and diverse topics from filmmakers across the globe.  Here are some of my picks from the 23 documentaries announced on August 1st in no particular order (unlike my feature film picks, you will see a bit more ethnic diversity represented here.)

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (Sophie Fiennes): Now 69, Jamaican born model, actress, musician and icon Jones is profiled over a ten year period. I remember when Jones was everywhere in the 80s and she’s always been a bit of a mystery.  Hopefully Fiennes (the sister of actors Ralph and Joseph) will offer some insight into her life as an artist.

Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! (Morgan Spurlock): This sequel to 2004’s “Super Size Me” sees filmmaker Spurlock opening his own fast food restaurant and battling the food industry once again.

One of Us (Heidi Ewing/Rachel Grady): Ewing and Grady, who are Oscar nominated directors for their 2006 documentary Jesus Camp, continue their religious exploration of three Hasidic Jews who wish to break away from their insular Brooklyn, NY community while facing threats of retaliation.  This will stream on Netflix later this fall.

Jane (Brett Morgen): A portrait of primatologist Jane Goodall, using footage from the 1960s with a score by Phillip Glass? Enough said.

Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (Sara Driver): The pre fame years in the late ‘70s NYC of the American artist are explored in this documentary. Basquiat has been the subject of feature films and documentaries before, so I hope this one adds to the canon of his short life.

The Gospel According to Andre (Kate Novack): Vogue’s larger than life contributing editor Andre Leon Talley has long been a fun commentator in numerous fashion documentaries, so it’s about time he was the subject.  Vogue Editrix Anna Wintour, and desginers such as Mar Jacobs, Tom Ford and Valentino offer insight into his life and career.  I always enjoy a dishy fashion doc, so I hope this one is up there with The September Issue.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (Matt Tymauer): Speaking of dish, this screened-at- Cannes documentary profiles Scotty Bowers, an ex- marine who landed in Hollywood after WWII and became a sexual procurer to the stars.  Bowers, who is in his 90s, discusses the sex lives of stars during a time before coming out of the closet was acceptable.

The China Hustle (Jed Rothstein): This is billed as an “unsettling and eye-opening Wall Street horror story about Chinese companies, the American stock market, and the opportunistic greed behind the biggest heist you’ve never heard of.”  Wall Street, China, and greed?  This will probably be the dishiest one of all!

Far from boring, documentaries are often my favorite movies from TIFF. Sometimes I find myself looking forward to the documentaries more than the feature films because truth is stranger (and more interesting sometimes) than fiction!

TIFF Platform Picks

Platform is a relatively new category of programming from TIFF that highlights “visionary directors” with a prize chosen by a jury of fellow visionary directors (including Wim Wenders). One of last year’s entries Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight, went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  Of the 12 films chosen for this exclusive category, here are my picks.

The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci): Veep creator Iannucci mines familiar territory, lampooning the political machinations following the death of Soviet leader Stalin in 1953.  Steve Buscemi plays his eventual successor Nikita Kruschev.  Looks like a great supporting cast including Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin and Jason Isaacs.

If You Saw His Heart (Joan Chemla):  I usually see Gael Garcia Bernal films (Rosewater, Neruda) that come to TIFF.  This year’s entry is from France.  Bernal plays Daniel, a damaged man who teeters between a life of crime and the path to redemption in the form of a woman (Marine Vacth).

Mademoiselle Paradis (Barbara Albert):  This entry is based on the life of Austrian composer Maria Theresa von Paradis (Maria-Victoria Dragus) and her attempts to cure her blindness with the help of Franz Anton Mesmer (Devid Striesow).  Yes, another biopic/period piece but I’m not familiar with Paradis’ story and I’m sure there will be some lovely classical music on the soundtrack.

Euphoria (Lisa Langseth): A story about two estranged sisters (Eva Green and Alicia Vikander) traveling through Europe to a mystery destination.  Game of Throne’s Charles Dance also stars.  The cast and premise sounds interesting and I hope the scenery will be amazing.

More films TBA as the festival gets closer, so if anything catches my eye, I will sure to keep posting!

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