There are a couple of reasons for revisiting the Toronto International Film Festival's lineup for its documentary program, Real to Reel. One of them is AJ Schnack's interview with Thom Powers, TIFF's Documentary and Mavericks Programmer, posted just hours after the Mavericks lineup was announced on Tuesday. Discussing the highlights of both programs, they touch on another reason: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is making all sorts of headlines. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's third film chronicling the odyssey of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr, aka the West Memphis Three, through the labyrinth of the US legal system, follows Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000). All three films deal with what Powers calls in his Programmer's Note "an 18-year-old murder case that has become an iconic example of a legal witch hunt." In 1993, when all three men were still teens, they were accused committing the gruesome murders of three younger boys. The WM3 "steadfastly maintained their innocence, yet they were convicted and remain in prison, one of them on death row."
Until Friday. In a surprise court hearing, they pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for the sentences they'd already served; their Alford plea allows them to maintain their claims of innocence. So suddenly, they're free — sort of. They'll continue their efforts to prove their innocence, but at least they'll be able to do so outside prison walls.
So Berlinger and Sinofsky are scrambling back to the editing table. Powers tells Schnack: "It's only been three or four days since then and we've just been absorbing the news as it's been developing. I talked to Joe this morning and he was back in New York and they're furiously working to re-cut the film. I don't know what's going to take place in the next few weeks leading up to the festival, so it's a little premature to say, but we're looking forward to showing the film, with Joe and Bruce here. It was a strong film to begin with and now it has this new, added layer of profundity to it."
And of course, a feature's in the works. Devil's Knot, to be directed by Atom Egoyan, was announced on Friday, the very day of that surprise court hearing. The Memphis Flyer's Chris Herrington is cautiously optimistic: "At first blush, Egoyan would seem to be the perfect choice to turn this tragic, controversial story into a worthwhile film. Even before Egoyan's name surfaced in connection with the project, if I were to have cited any one film as a model for what a 'West Memphis Three' film should be it would have been Egoyan's harrowing 1997 masterpiece The Sweet Hereafter, a mournful adaptation of Russell Banks's novel about the impact of a school-bus crash on a small town."
Meantime, Sheila Nevins, the president of HBO's documentary division whose interest in the case nearly two decades ago sparked the trilogy of docs, tells the Hollywood Reporter's Matthew Belloni, "Yet there's still an irony. Under the law, they're now 'innocent but guilty.' Guilty but innocent? What the hell is that all about? Don't tell Joe but maybe there's another film there. I think we're ready for Paradise Lost 4."
Berlinger will be wrapping up another first. As the Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth reports, he's "currently in post-production on an untitled film, which found him following Paul Simon to South Africa where he reunited with musicians for the 25th anniversary of his seminal album Graceland." HBO, by the way, will be re-airing the first two Paradise Lost docs next week.
The first item to leap out at AJ Schnack from the Mavericks program is The Love We Make. TIFF: "Over several weeks in October 2001, acclaimed documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles followed Paul McCartney as he prepared for The Concert for New York City, a 9/11 memorial concert he helped organize to uplift New York during a period of distinct uncertainty and vulnerability. For years the footage went unseen, requiring the passage of time to put it in perspective. Now ten years later, Maysles, along with director partner Bradley Kaplan and editor Ian Markiewicz, have emerged with a deeply intimate film that uniquely explores the roles of art and artists in time of crisis." A discussion will follow this world premiere.
Also: Deepa Mehta and Salman Rushdie will discuss working together on their adaptation of Rushdie's 1981 novel Midnight's Children; there'll be an evening with Francis Ford Coppola and another with Tilda Swinton; Jonathan Demme and Neil Young present their latest collaboration, Neil Young Life; Christopher Plummer will discuss Tony Award-winning performance as John Barrymore following a screening of Erik Canuel's adaptation of William Luce's play, Barrymore; Jon Shenk, director of The Island President, and his subject, Mohamed Nasheed, will discuss the doc following a screening; Tahrir 2011 is an evening of three films on the Egyptian revolution; and "Sony Pictures Classics: 20 Years in the Business" is an evening that'll evidently extend to the New York Film Festival.
REAL TO REEL
Atia Al-Daradji and Mohamed Al Daradji's In My Mother's Arms. TIFF: "Husham works tirelessly to build the hopes, dreams and prospects of the 32 damaged children of war, under his care at a small orphanage in Baghdad's most dangerous district. When the landlord gives Husham and the boys just two weeks to vacate a desperate search ensues"
Corinna Belz's Gerhard Richter Painting:
Costa Botes's The Last Dogs of Winter. TIFF: "With the aid of a former New Zealand television star, an idiosyncratic Canadian man in the Far North devotes his life to preserving the last remaining members of a rare breed of Arctic dog."
Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill's Sarah Palin — You Betcha! Thom Powers tells AJ Schnack: "An important thing about this film, to me, is that for a lot of people, they'd like to treat Sarah Palin as a joke that they hope will go away, but she's definitely not a joke to her millions of supporters and she doesn't show any sign of going away. So Broomfield doesn't treat her as a joke, although there's certainly a lot of humor in the film, and supplies a very worthwhile, complete portrait of her background." A teaser:
Mark Cousins's The Story of Film: An Odyssey. TIFF: "Cousins adapts his book of the same title into a 15-hour exploration of cinema's artistry with a global perspective from the silent era to the digital age." Trailer:
Jonathan Demme's I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful:
Bill Duke and D Channsin Berry's Dark Girls. TIFF: "In this emotional and heartfelt documentary, directors Bill Duke and D Channsin Berry set out to examine why skin-colour bias persists among people of African descent, and how it affects the lives of women on the receiving end."
Ron Fricke's Samsara. TIFF: "The team behind Baraka reunites for another journey around the world, exploring themes of birth, death and rebirth through stunning visuals and music."
Alex Gibney's The Last Gladiators. TIFF: "Exploring the rough and tumble world of hockey, Academy Award winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) looks at the world of the NHL enforcers and specifically the career of Chris 'Knuckles' Nilan who helped the Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup."
Michael Glawogger's Whore's Glory. TIFF: "This remarkable observational documentary travels to Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico in search of the plain truth of prostitution. Without judgment but with engaging cinematic style, Whore's Glory shows the ordinary people leading extreme lives." Clip:
Werner Herzog's Into the Abyss. Powers finds it "notable in that some of the things that we think of as being characteristic of Herzog's recent work, particularly a heavy presence of his voice over narration and philosophy, that's pulled back in this work. We hear Herzog asking some questions but there's no other narration in the piece. And I think that in this exploration of this horrible crime you really see a kind of compassionate side of Herzog coming out in his interactions with his subjects." A clip:
And more clips: 1, 2.
Gary Hustwit's Urbanized. Completes the trilogy begun with Helvetica and Objectified. For Powers, it "is in some ways the deepest of the three films. I can say that because the subject matter is something that I think is more crucial to our daily lives. It's getting to the heart of how we live and how we can affect our environment."
Stephen Kessler's Paul Williams Still Live "tracks down actor/singer/songwriter Paul Williams in an attempt to find out what happened to his idol." (TIFF)
Kim Ki-duk's Arirang. Cannes roundup. Trailer.
Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin's Undefeated. TIFF: "A high school football team in inner-city Memphis gains an inspirational coach and aspires to win the first playoff game in the school's 110-year history." Powers: "This is, of all the documentaries this year, the one that grabbed me the strongest, emotionally. The characters in this film are so vivid and that emotionalism is matched by really exceptional filmmaking from two filmmakers who are relative newcomers."
Tony Krawitz's The Tall Man:
Branwen Okpako's The Education of Auma Obama. A late addition to the lineup. TIFF: "Audiences spend the week leading up to the 2008 US presidential elections with Auma Obama at the Obama homestead in Kogelo, Kenya. During this historical moment of transition, Auma shares the powerful and moving story of her family and herself. It is an education."
Rithy Panh's Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell. TIFF: "Rithy Panh first explored the legacy of Cambodia's genocide with S21, the Khmer Rouge Killing Machine. This important historical documentary continues Panh's investigation with a portrait of Kaing Guek Eav, the man responsible for running the notorious S-21 prison."
Andrey Paounov's The Boy Who Was King. TIFF: "Paounov (The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories) explores the strange history of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha who became Bulgaria's tsar at age 6, then was exiled during years of communism and returned to be elected Prime Minister."
Léa Pool's Pink Ribbons, Inc:
Mathieu Roy and Harold Crook's Surviving Progress. TIFF: "Intelligent and compelling, Surviving Progress is nothing short of a massive taking-stock and features some of the world's great contemporary thinkers including Jane Goodall, Margaret Atwood, David Suzuki and Stephen Hawking. Inspired by Ronald Wright's bestselling non-fiction book about societal collapse, this documentary explores the idea of 'progress traps' in our modern world."
Ashley Sabin and David Redmon's Girl Model:
Morgan Spurlock's Comic-Con: Episode IV - A Fan's Hope. Spurlock doesn't actually appear in this one, according to Powers: "Instead, his team is following several other characters and we're experiencing Comic-Con through their eyes instead of Morgan as the main character."
Frederick Wiseman's Crazy Horse: