Toronto film fest documentaries embrace the news feature

By Cameron French

TORONTO (Reuters) - Documentaries have enjoyed increased profile over the last decade thanks to personality-driven hits by directors such as Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, as well as big-budget films such as U2's "From the Sky Down", which headlined the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011.

The documentary slate at this year's festival - led by Jehane Noujaim's "The Square", which follows activists in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the wake of the 2011 overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak - leans more towards the kinds of news features that in years past might have been found on network TV.

"I think what we're seeing is as traditional news media is going through a transformation and cutbacks... we see documentary makers kind of filling that void," said Thom Powers, documentary programmer at the Toronto festival.

He points to films such as "The Armstrong Lie", which tracks cyclists Lance Armstrong's fall from grace, and "The Unknown Known", an examination of Donald Rumsfeld's run as U.S. Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush, as other new-driven offerings making an impact this year.

While those films bring a fresh perspective to older stories, Noujaim has been barely able to keep her film "The Square" up to date with a still-evolving story.

Noujaim screened a rough cut of the film at the Sundance Film Festival in January, winning the Audience Award.

Even as she was accepting the accolade, demonstrations against Mubarak's successor Mohamed Morsi were growing. The protests prompted the director to return to Cairo to film events leading up to Morsi's removal in July, which became the final act of the documentary.

"Events kept catching up to it with the toppling of Morsi and then it became the story of the toppling of one (leader) to the toppling of the next," Khalid Abdalla, an Egyptian actor and one of a group of revolutionaries Noujaim follows over the course of 30 months, said in an interview.

ARMSTRONG, ROBERTSON, RUMSFELD

Much like "The Square", Alex Gibney's "The Armstrong Lie" had to change as events unfolded. The Oscar winner began filming Lance Armstrong in 2009 as the cyclist prepared to return to competitive cycling after a three-year absence.

Gibney shifted his focus as suspicions grew that Armstrong had been doping in winning his seven Tour de France titles, culminating in his ban in 2012 from competitive cycling and the stripping of his Tour de France titles.

Rather than a comeback story, Gibney was left with a front row seat to one of the most spectacular collapses in sports history.

Errol Morris's "The Unknown Known," essentially a series of interviews with former U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, revisits his tumultuous five years at the Pentagon under President George W. Bush and his actions in building the case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"Mission Congo" examines televangelist Pat Robertson's efforts to raise funds in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide through his Operation Blessing organization.

In the film, which has already drawn threats of legal action from Operation Blessing, directors Lara Zizic and David Turner examine claims that Robertson misused funds that were raised to provide relief for refugees flooding in to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

TAHRIR

While the events at Tahrir Square have been covered extensively for more than two years, Noujaim said the documentary format offers a level of intimacy and understanding tough to find in event-driven news.

"I think documentary film making has this great advantage of being able to follow the emotional journey of people that the headlines are about," she said in an interview.

"The media comes in and captures the election or the .. huge event and when there's lots of violence, but you never get to see the in-between times, and it's the in-between times that are the most important."

Indeed, rather than focusing on the major news points of the Egyptian revolution, Noujaim focuses on a handful of activists whose lives have come to revolve around Tahrir Square, the public square that has been the focal point of the revolution.

Using six cameras that produced about 1,600 hours of footage, she follows the "characters" through stages of elation, disappointment, and self-doubt as what initially appears to be a clear road to democracy after the fall of Mubarak instead turns into a battle of competing forces looking to take control.

Powers said the advantage of approaching news events through documentary film making is the rare experience of having an audience focus on one thing for an extended period.

"You may be reading articles online but you click through to something else. When you walk into a movie theater and sit down for 90 minutes... that's a concentrated piece of time," he said.

"I think people have an appetite for that."

(Reporting by Cameron French; editing by Andrew Hay)

--

Did you know that you can get stories like this on the Yahoo mail app?
Download it here.

Yahoo Cricket

Latest News

  • Mayweather versus Pacquiao packs a pricey pay-per-view punch
    Mayweather versus Pacquiao packs a pricey pay-per-view punch

    By Mary Milliken LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Guadalupe Jaimes, a Chicago roofing supply salesman, calls the $100 (6,332 rupees) pay-per-view price tag for a high-definition broadcast of Saturday's boxing mega-match "ridiculous." It's a price that he and millions more will pay to watch an undefeated Floyd Mayweather take on Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas on Saturday in one of the year's biggest sporting events. Mayweather's defeat of Oscar De La Hoya in 2007 has the buy record of 2.48 million …

  • Salma Hayek pays tribute to Lebanese roots with film of 'The Prophet'
    Salma Hayek pays tribute to Lebanese roots with film of 'The Prophet'

    By Sylvia Westall BEIRUT (Reuters) - Mexican actress Salma Hayek says her new film "The Prophet" was a labour of love that helped her explore her relationship with her late Lebanese grandfather, who adored the book that inspired it. The animated film, which draws on the 1923 book by Lebanese-born writer Kahlil Gibran, tells the story of Almitra, a headstrong girl who forms a friendship with imprisoned poet Mustafa. …

  • Two Elvis jets to grace Presley's Memphis home permanently
    Two Elvis jets to grace Presley's Memphis home permanently

    Two jets that once belonged to Elvis Presley, the Lisa Marie and the Hound Dog II, will have a permanent home at the singer's Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, Graceland said. The continued presence of the airplanes, a tour staple since 1984, had been in doubt since a partnership that owned them said last July their agreement with Elvis Presley Enterprises was expiring this month and they could be removed. Graceland said in a statement on Sunday it was "pleased an agreement has been …

  • Chris Evans is big fan of romance

    Mumbai, April 28 (IANS) Actor Chris Evans, who would be seen Justin Reardon's upcoming romantic comedy "Playing It Cool" with Michelle Monaghan, says that he is a big fan of romance. "I've always been a big fan of romance and I think this story kind of captures the idea of meeting somebody in an unexpected night, unfolding in a really pure manner. We have two characters that are damaged and each one of them was in need of an understanding of what love actually meant," Evans said in a …

  • Architect Gehry to design opera set for Berlin's Staatsoper
    Architect Gehry to design opera set for Berlin's Staatsoper

    The American architect Frank Gehry will be the stage designer of a new production of the Christoph Gluck opera "Orfeo ed Euridice" for Berlin's Staatsoper, the company announced on Monday in unveiling its 2015-2016 season. Daniel Barenboim, the Staatsoper's music director, and Juergen Flimm, its general manager, also announced a new production of Richard Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg" will be the season opener on Oct 3, with Barenboim conducting his 20th Wagner production for the …

  • Designer Westwood carries mutilated "baby" in anti-fracking campaign
    Designer Westwood carries mutilated "baby" in anti-fracking campaign

    British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood took to the streets of London on Monday cradling a "fracked baby of the future" in her latest show of opposition to hydraulic fracturing. The 74-year-old, known for her environmental campaigning as well as her bold designs, held a doll covered in bloodstains and with a missing hand, which campaign group Talk Fracking called a "limbless, radiation-scabbed 'Fracked Baby of the Future'". …

  • Russia's Bolshoi corrects oversight, mounts Mozart "Figaro"
    Russia's Bolshoi corrects oversight, mounts Mozart "Figaro"

    By Olga Petrova MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's Bolshoi theatre has a chequered history with Mozart's ever-popular 1786 opera "Le Nozze di Figaro" (The Marriage of Figaro), having not presented any version of it until 1926. Now the company presents a new staging by director Evgeny Pisarev that is intended to accent the opera's lyricism with a cast of mostly young singers, conducted by British maestro William Lacey. "I am not going to present any radical concepts about how everyone misunderstood …

  • Singer Amy Winehouse's father says new biopic misleading
    Singer Amy Winehouse's father says new biopic misleading

    By Rollo Ross and Marie-Louise Gumuchian LONDON (Reuters) - A new film about the late British singer Amy Winehouse is misleading, her father said on Monday, and the family of the six-time Grammy Award winner was disassociating itself from the production. Mitch Winehouse said he was not happy with the way the makers of "AMY", which will screened at the Cannes Film Festival next month, had portrayed him. The film was directed by Asif Kapadia, who won a BAFTA for his documentary "Senna" on the …

Loading...