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The Auteurs Daily: Toronto. Reel to Real

The Auteurs Daily

How to Fold a Flag

Four films from TIFF's documentary program wound up with entries of their own this year. Here are notes on several more...

Alissa Simon in Variety: "An affecting portrait of an inspiring woman, fine docu Ahead of Time situates journalist, author and humanitarian Ruth Gruber in the historical record."

"No doubt many of you recall the hubbub that ensued several years back when a group of Mormon businessmen and video retailers began selling 'sanitized' versions of big Hollywood movies like Titanic," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. Cleanflix "isn't just about intellectual property; it's about the daily difficulties that the devoutly religious have in trying to participate in mainstream American culture while retaining as much of the purity of their own beliefs as they can." More from Joe Leydon in Variety; and AJ Schnack rounds up yet more reviews.

"Less wake-up call than four-alarm fire," writes Rob Nelson in Variety, "Collapse forces its audience to witness the testimony of Michael Ruppert, an independent writer and researcher who believes that everything - industrial civilization, at least - is falling apart, soon to vanish completely. In other words, it makes countless other political documentaries look like episodes of Teletubbies. Unnervingly persuasive much of the time, and merely riveting when it's not, Ruppert's talking-head analysis gets the Errol Morris treatment from director Chris Smith (American Movie), whose intellectual horror film ranks as another essential work, one well deserving of play in major cities - provided they're still around." More from Manohla Dargis (New York Times) and Scott Tobias (AV Club). Again, AJ Schnack rounds up more.

"These days even a documentary about bees and beekeeping skews apocalyptic," notes Manohla Dargis: "witness Colony, an examination of what's been labeled colony collapse disorder, the mysterious phenomenon that has, over the past few frightening years, wiped out about a third of the American honeybee population." The film "constitutes a satisfying addition to the blooming, buzzing field of social issue documentary."

"The late Glenn Gould was classical music's Michael Jackson," writes John Anderson in Variety, "a 'gloved one' who understood the commercial value of eccentricity and whose personality often eclipsed his music. Because of this, he's also one of the most closely chronicled performers of the 20th century, so it behooved Peter Raymont and Michèle Hozer to load biodoc Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould with as much previously unseen footage as possible. While the pic is far from perfect, the helmers certainly deliver a must-see film for serious music fans."

Alissa Simon in Variety: "Provocative subject matter trumps filmmaking craft in Israeli helmer Zippi Brand Frank's docu Google Baby, a non-judgmental look at the technology of making a baby without sex and the outsourcing of this business across three continents."

"With their latest film, How to Fold a Flag, documentary filmmakers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein have come full circle," writes Scott Macaulay, introducing his Filmmaker interview. "Their first feature was 2004's Gunner Palace, which told the story of soldiers in the Army's 2/3 Field Artillery as they patroled the streets of Baghdad in late 2003 and early 2004. Told in a gritty style that threw viewers right into the midst of conflict, the film resisted an overt political agenda, focusing instead on the daily lives of the troops. The Prisoner: Or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair followed, a chillingly Kafkaesque story of an Iraqi journalist who is sent to Abu Ghraib after being mistaken for an assassin sent to kill the British Prime Minister. Their next film, 2008's Bulletproof Salesman, looked at the war from as sidelong angle, focusing on a German businessman who profited from the conflict by selling armored vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan." How to Fold a Flag "is the final film in their series" and, in Variety, Joe Leydon finds it to be "a diffuse yet fascinating account of four US Army vets readjusting to civilian life." AJ Schnack rounds up more reviews.

"Acclaimed filmmaker Peter Mettler - who served as a cinematographer on the documentary Manufactured Landscapes - takes to the skies to observe the environmental impact of bitumen-mining in Alberta," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Like Manufactured Landscapes, [Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands] is largely about how man inadvertently shapes nature as a byproduct of industry, and while this revelation is hardly new, Petropolis is still haunting."

John Anderson in Variety: "Presumed Guilty is a compelling tale of corruption and sloth within the Mexican criminal justice system - a small case made large by its implications: If this much effort has to be expended to exonerate a man so clearly innocent, what kind of medieval horror must the rest of the system be? Kinetic style, pulsating music and a compelling human story make this docu by lawyer Roberto Hernandez and Geoffrey Smith (The English Surgeon) a tale of righteous indignation and near tragedy."

"Neil Diamond's Reel Injun accomplishes one truly remarkable feat," writes Todd Brown at Twitch. "The documentarian, himself a native from a far northern community, sets out to craft a record of Hollywood's depictions of native people over the years. And that he does, neatly breaking the film down into cleanly defined eras with a string of fascinating interviews from key actors, journalists, activists and more to back himself up. It's an absolutely fascinating trip. But more than that - and more importantly - in the process of creating this film about film, Diamond also creates a compelling portrait of a people still struggling to find their own voice and shape their own image. This last bit not despite, but because of, a library of over four thousand films dealing with native people and culture, virtually all of them getting it willfully wrong." More from Joe Leydon in Variety.

Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags is "an HBO documentary on the rise and fall of the garment district and the fashion industry in New York City," notes Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter. "Some of the colorful ethnic characters that populate the film say moderately lively things from time to time, but mostly it's standard-issue talking heads and archival footage." More from Brian Lowry (Variety) and Noel Murray (AV Club).

"Gritty, inspiring and often grandly shot across some glorious landscapes, quasi-adventure/biopic Snowblind takes a long time finding the dramatic traction it needs to move beyond the picturesque, but when it does, it glides," writes John Anderson in Variety of this documentary about 23-year-old blind musher Rachael Scdoris.

Also: "A mystery replete with miracles, The Sunshine Boy is, for many minutes, a primer on autism - statistics, possible causes, the plight of families, the seemingly impenetrable wall that separates the autistic from the world. But the way that wall is breached will leave auds stunned and rethinking what has long been considered a disorder devoid of hope."

And: "A docu that has you falling in love with two of the crazier people you've never met, The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls could well add Jools and Lynda Topp to a list that includes spring lamb and Lord of the Rings - that is, gifts from New Zealand to a world that usually doesn't pay it any attention."

"Don Hahn's documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty tells the story of how Disney animation regained its luster," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club, but it "isn't some fancied-up DVD featurette.... It's a fascinating tale (especially for aficionados), well-relayed by Hahn." More from Rob Nelson in Variety.

Meanwhile, at the site for Stranger Than Fiction, the series of docs that screen at New York's IFC Center, Raphaela Neihausen looks back on the docs of the festival.

Image: How to Fold a Flag.

TIFF 09: Index; full coverage; lineup.

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