10 must-see documentaries playing at TIFF 2018

Several adventurous directors are coming to town with non-fiction films


The biggest names in documentary filmmaking are coming to Toronto with high-profile films about American and Russian politics. But alongside well-known filmmakers such as Michael Moore, some of the genre’s up-and-coming innovators – and at least one huge music star – are also represented in the lineup. Here are 10 docs that shouldn’t be overlooked.

1. Graves Without A Name

Part personal film, part eulogy to the victims of the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal rule in Cambodia, Rithy Panh’s latest is sure to be one of the more emotional films playing at TIFF. The director used stop-motion animation in his Oscar-nominated 2013 doc The Missing Picture to powerful effect, so we know to expect the unexpected with each new film.

Sep 7, 6:45 pm, TBLB 2 Sep 9, 9 am, AGO Sep 16, 9:30 am, Scotiabank 13

2. Monrovia, Indiana

Influential filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has spent the past decade making films set in big cities like New York and London. His latest heads to the American midwest to profile a small town in the wake of Trump’s presidential victory. One of several big-name documentarians with a film exploring conservatism in America at this year’s festival, Wiseman, unsurprisingly, isn’t concentrating on the one per cent.

Sep 8, 12:30 pm, AGO Sep 16, 12:15 pm, AGO

3. Maria By Callas

There aren’t a huge number of music or arts docs playing at TIFF compared with previous years, but director Tom Volf’s look at the life of iconic soprano Maria Callas fascinates with a wealth of poignant archival material and apt musical choices. NOW film editor Glenn Sumi calls it “a must-see for opera lovers.”

Sep 10, 6:45 pm, TBLB 2 Sep 13, 9:15 pm, Scotiabank 14.

4. Dead Souls

Not for the faint of heart – on multiple levels – Chinese auteur Wang Bing’s eight-hour doc recounts the horrors of hard-labour camps where Mao’s government sent “rightists” to be re-educated in the late 50s and early 60s. Recalling Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, Dead Souls is largely comprised of testimonials of elderly survivors, whose memories are full of heartbreaking detail. The running time means it likely won’t be screened theatrically too often, so if you’re a patient cinemagoer, this is not to be missed.

Sep 7, 9:45 am, AGO Sep 14, 3 pm AGO.

5. Quincy

This doc about legendary music producer Quincy Jones is going to debut on Netflix shortly after TIFF, but if you’re a fan, you’ll want to see it with the man himself in attendance. Co-directed by his daughter Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks. Jones loves telling stories, and if the film is anything like his recent interviews with Vulture and and GQ, the doc and Q&A is bound to be fun.

Sep 9, 2:30 pm, Princess of Wales Sep 11, 12:15 pm, TBLB 2 Sep 15, 6:45 pm, Scotiabank 2

6. What You Gonna Do When The World’s On Fire?

In 2016, TIFF Cinematheque screened a retrospective of Italian-born, Texas-based director Roberto Minervini’s polarizing hybrid documentary/fiction films. Though his films look like (beautifully shot) fly-on-the-wall docs, many scenes feature characters performing versions of their lives. As with past films, his fifth is another meditation on life in the U.S. South but focuses on lives of Black Americans in Louisiana and Mississippi in the summer of 2017.

Sep 11, 9:15 pm, AGO Sep 13, noon, AGO Sep 16, 9:15 am, Scotiabank 8 

7. The Grand Bizarre

London-born experimental director Jodie Mack is behind what looks like one of the most exciting big-screen experiences at this year’s festival. Five years in the making, her feature debut The Grand Bizarre takes viewers on a non-linear tour of global textile markets, patterns and signs, set to a mixtape of dancey pop tunes created by the filmmaker herself.

Sep 8, 11:45 am, TBLB 3 Sep 10, 11:45 am, TBLB 4

8. Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema

British director Mark Cousins made a splash with the 15-hour essay film The Story Of Film: An Odyssey – shown in its entirety at TIFF in 2011. This time, he’s devoted 16 hours to the history of women directors in cinema and recruited Tilda Swinton to narrate. Four hours of the project are screening at TIFF, which is appropriate given the festival has put a lot of effort into championing women lately. Given the debates among actors and filmmakers about the ways men tell women’s stories, the Q&A should be interesting.

Sep 7, 1 pm, TBLB 2, Sep 12, 7 pm, Scotiabank 10, Sep 16, 7:45 pm, Scotiabank 4

9. Maiden

Adventure docs have become increasingly popular lately (thanks in part to National Geographic, which recently returned to making splashy feature documentaries after several years adrift in the world of reality TV). Director Alex Holmes recounts British sailor Tracy Edwards, the skipper of the first all-female crew to participate in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race in 1989. The film features a mix of archival footage and original interviews with Edwards and her crew.

Sep 6, 8:30 pm, Scotiabank 14 Sep 8, 4 pm, Scotiabank 2 Sep 16, 6:30 pm, Scotiabank 9

10. Touch Me Not

This film is not exactly a doc but falls into the hybrid category. Romanian director Adina Pintilie won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale for her polarizing essay film about sexuality. The film, which mixes scripted and non-fiction elements, was both brutally panned as “shallow” and celebrated as fearless filmmaking. Either way, expect a lot of kinky sex.

Sep 12, 6:15 pm, TBLB 2 Sep 14, 9:15 pm, Scotiabank 7 Sep 15, 2:45 pm, AGO.

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