Documentaries steal spotlight at TIFF

Published: September 11, 2011

TORONTO: 

They’re not exactly squeezing George Clooney out onto the street, but documentaries are grabbing a larger share of the spotlight than usual at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

In addition to festival opener From the Sky Down — the U2 documentary by Davis Guggenheim — documentary royalty such as Werner Herzog, Morgan Spurlock, Wim Wenders and Alex Gibney will all unspool premieres over the next week.

“We’ve opened up more seats in our theatres for documentaries than ever before and put them in bigger venues than ever before,” said Thom Powers, documentary programmer for the festival. “It reflects the ever growing presence and importance of documentary in the culture on a number of different levels.”

Several blocks away from the red carpet premiere, more than one thousand people crammed in to a festival theatre for the world premiere of Into the Abyss, a documentary by director Herzog.

Spurlock, who gained fame with 2004’s Super Size Me, will premiere his latest offering, Comic Con: Episode IV — A Fan’s Hope about the wildly popular annual pop culture conference in San Diego.

Wenders will unveil Pina about influential dance choreographer Pina Bausch, while Gibney will premier The Last Gladiators, which examines the world of hockey fighters. With the US election year looming, Nick Broomfield’s Sarah Palin — You Betcha! — billed as a quest for the “real” Sarah Palin in her home state of Alaska — promises to be a big draw.

Once largely relegated to public television and repertory theatres, the nonfiction format has enjoyed increasing commercial popularity in recent years, giving celebrity status to documentary directors who in the past would likely be toiling in obscurity.

Past box office hits such as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and Guggenheim’s Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth have shown the commercial possibilities of the format, while the relatively low budgets are appealing to producers.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th,  2011.

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