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Toronto International Film Festival Documentary Line-up Led by Morris vs. Rumsfeld, 'Tim's Vermeer,' the Man Behind 'Dog Day Afternoon'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 30, 2013 at 10:00AM

This year's Toronto International Film Festival documentary world premieres include works by Penn & Teller, artist Chris Jordan, Jehane Noujaim and Leanne Pooley; and North American premieres by directors Errol Morris, Frederick Wiseman, Marcel Ophuls and Claude Lanzmann. (Full line-up is below.)
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This year's Toronto International Film Festival documentary world premieres include works by Penn & Teller, artist Chris Jordan, Jehane Noujaim and Leanne Pooley; and North American premieres by directors Errol Morris, Frederick Wiseman, Marcel Ophuls and Claude Lanzmann. (Full line-up is below.)

Among the world premieres that programmer Thom Powers believes will pop for audiences is Chris Jordan's visually striking, almost wordless "Midway." Known in the art world, the photographer is making his feature film debut. He's been filming albatrosses on the Pacific Ocean's remote Midway Island, 2000 miles from any continent. But the danger to birds is the consumption of plastics that float up on shore, says Powers. "We've seen photographs of decomposing albatrosses with stomachs full of plastic bottle caps." (Jordan's heart-tugging short that has more than 10 million YouTube views is posted below, along with his Ted Talk.)  (Backed by Impact Partners' Dan Cogan, the film is repped by WME.)

Another sales title is Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren's "The Dog," about the real life bank robber played by Al Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon." Powers loaned the filmmakers his camera ten years ago, three years before he started working at TIFF. "To call John Wojtowicz a larger-than-life character is an understatement," he says. "He was a figure in the early gay rights movement in the late 60s and 70s in NY, and a profane character, a libertine. This portrait of him ranks among the unforgettable characters in the documentary genre. The film draws from a rich reservoir of footage." (Josh Braun of Submarine is repping the film.)

Vermeer's 'The Music Lesson'
Vermeer's 'The Music Lesson'

Just acquired by Sony Pictures Classics is "Tim's Vermeer," one of several films focused on obsessive characters in this year's lineup. Magicians Penn & Teller have been working on this doc; director Teller has been following the story for over a year, says Powers, about "Tim Jenison's painstaking attempts to recreate the Vermeer painting 'The Music Lesson.'" Theories have been put forward by David Hockney ("Secret Knowledge") and Philip Steadman ("Vermeer's Camera") about how they think Vermeer went about creating photorealistic paintings without photography. Jenison, the inventor and computer graphics whiz who founded New Tek, while addressing their theories, also came up with his own and put them forward in an experiment.

Also about obsession are the passions of the Belarus Free Theater in "Unstable Elements," says Powers, as they go up against the Russian dictatorship in their contract fight.

And obsessive Errol Morris interrogates Donald Rumsfeld in "The Unknown Known." "This film is almost like a verbal dueling match between Morris and Rumsfeld," says Powers, "who is not a man easily pinned down, and Morris is not a man who easily gives up." Meanwhile Frank Pavich looks at obsessive filmmaker "Jodorowsky's 'Dune.'"

Jodorowsky's Dune

Young filmmaker John Maloof, 31, with "Finding Vivian Maier," teams up with amateur historian Charlie Siskel, who acquired an historic box of photos at a storage auction. "He was fascinated by the quality of the photos," says Powers, "and in his sleuthing found the woman who took them and uncovers one of the most extraordinary collections of street photography by a then unknown photographer."

This year also sees films from a cluster of elder statesmen octogenarians: Frederick Wiseman tackles sprawling institution U.C. Berkeley with "At Berkeley"; Marcel Ophuls offers a memoir, "Ain't Misbehavin'" that includes material on his father Max; and Claude Lanzmann's five-hour "The Last of the Unjust," which showed to largely critics and programmers at Cannes. Now the Toronto public will see it, says Powers. 

For his part prolific film historian Mark Cousins' entry "A Story of Children and Film" clocks in at a mere 100 minutes. 

See the full list below. More to come; TIFF still has further docs to announce, in the Mavericks conversation section due to be revealed on Aug 13; as well as a sprinkling in other sections.

This article is related to: Toronto International Film Festival, Festivals, Documentary, Documentaries


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.