Documentaries are making waves at the Toronto Film Festival, exploring subjects ranging from abuse in the Catholic Church to brutal massacres in Indonesia.
For the first time ever in Toronto, two non-music based documentaries were given star treatment at the festival, with gala screenings of Liz Garbus’ Love, Marilyn about Marilyn Monroe and Shola Lynch’s Free Angela and All Political Prisoners about US civil rights activist Angela Davis.
The 10-day Toronto International Film Festival, which ends on Sunday, serves as a kickoff to Hollywood’s awards season and is considered a top venue for building documentary buzz.
Drawing headlines for its unusual style and brutal content, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing gives first-hand accounts of the military coup of Indonesia in 1965, which resulted in the deaths of more than one million alleged communists and ethnic Chinese.
The film follows the aging gangsters who perpetrated the killings and who remain national heroes in Indonesia. Rather than have the men just recount their crimes, Oppenheimer allows them to gleefully re-enact the killings for his cameras, creating a chilling “film within the film” where the killers play both executioner and victim.
“I wanted to understand how these people, and how this society imagines itself in such a way that this can be something to be celebrated,” said Oppenheimer, a US director now based in London.
Another documentary that backs away from convention is Camp 14 — Total Control Zone, which uses animation to illustrate a young man’s life growing up in a North Korean labour camp.
Directed by Marc Wiese, Camp 14 is a stark and moving portrait of Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born to political prisoners and spent the first two decades of his life behind barbed wire.
Shin eventually escapes and ends up living in South Korea, where he is overwhelmed by consumerism and dreams of returning to a simple life in the North.
Featuring interviews with Shin and two former security officials from North Korea, the film paints a picture of torture and human rights abuse in the secretive nation.
Central Park Five, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God and The Gatekeepers also caught attention at the Festival this year.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2012.
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