TIFF 2014: Your Guide to Documentaries
The fest's nonfiction programming spans subjects as diverse as the Indonesian killings of the mid-1960s, Soviet hockey, and a Chinese pop idol contest.
Hitting up Toronto’s documentary junkies in the sweet lull between Hot Docs and HBO Canada’s ritzy fall programming, TIFF Docs serves up the fest’s highest-profile nonfiction titles en route to awards season glory. As usual, this year’s group is a motley one, spanning the globe and any number of thematic interests.
Our most anticipated film in the programme is easily Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence. A followup to his bracing, critically acclaimed The Act of Killing, the doc follows a family that, after engaging with the previous film’s profile of a trio of self-styled right-wing “gangsters,” confronted the militiaman who killed their son during Indonesia’s anti-communist and anti-ethnic Chinese massacres in the mid-1960s.
We’ve already sung the praises of Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery, which sees the master of the form casting his eye on the inner workings and outer presentation of the English art institution to mesmerizing effect (doubly so if you’re the sort of nerd who cares about light meters and shadows). But we’ll take another opportunity to plug it, while we’re here.
Another buzz-accumulating title in this year’s offerings is Red Army, which met with a favourable response at Cannes. Gabe Polsky’s film—his feature debut after a lengthy run of producing work by luminaries like Werner Herzog—profiles Soviet hockey in the 1980s. He’s also a former hockey player, so presumably he knows what he’s talking about.
If all that enemy hockey makes you feel perversely patriotic, you might want to look at one of the Canadian docs on display. The most visually dynamic (read: not set in Canada) may well be Sturla Gunnarsson’s Monsoon, which teases out the various cultural, economic, and spiritual meanings of the monsoon for a wide range of Indian citizens.
As huge fans of Fan Lixin’s 2009 doc Last Train Home, which looked at the mass migration of Chinese workers returning from the city to their humble village homes for New Year’s, we’re looking forward to his followup, I Am Here. Another glimpse at contemporary China, this one follows a group of hopefuls angling to make the cut in a major talent show that spans a gruelling ten months.
Anyone with an itch for artist profiles might also wish to take in Seymour: An Introduction. The film casts light on underrated classical pianist and composer Seymour Bernstein. It also happens to be directed by Ethan Hawke, whom we’ve always considered to be the better Tom Cruise.