Toronto International Film Festival: Aretha Franklin Tale, Delayed Four Decades, Headlines Documentary Section


Aretha Franklin at the Apollo Theater in 1971.Credit Tyrone Dukes/The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — Among the new documentaries set for the Toronto International Film Festival, which opens Sept. 10, is a very old one: Sydney Pollack’s long-shelved film about the making of Aretha Franklin’s “Amazing Grace” album, recorded live at a Los Angeles church in 1972.

Mr. Pollack, who died in 2008, had put aside the documentary, named for the album,  when he had trouble matching images and sound using film technology available at the time, said Thom Powers, a Toronto festival programmer who described the year’s documentary offerings in an interview.

The producer, Alan Elliott, revived the project, which will be one of more than two dozen documentaries screened at the festival. Many of the entries are music-based, including “Janis: Little Girl Blue,” about Janis Joplin, directed by Amy Berg, and a film about the R&B singer Sharon Jones, directed by Barbara Kopple: “Miss Sharon Jones!”

Ms. Kopple’s “Harlan County USA,” which was shown at the first Toronto festival 40 years ago, will receive  a retrospective screening this year, Mr. Powers said.
Politically tinged documentaries will include “He Named Me Malala,” from Davis Guggenheim, about the Taliban attack on Malala Yousafzai, and “Je Suis Charlie,” about terror attacks in France this year, including the one on the humor magazine Charlie Hebdo, from the directors Emmanuel and Daniel Leconte.

One of the festival’s more dramatic documentary offerings will probably be Jennifer Peedom’s “Sherpa,” about tensions between international climbers and their Sherpa guides on Mount Everest. Ms. Peedom, said Mr. Powers, was shooting with her crew on Everest when an avalanche killed 16 of the Nepalese guides in 2014.

Here’s the full documentary lineup, along with descriptions provided by the festival:

“Amazing Grace”
“He Named Me Malala”
“Janis: Little Girl Blue”
“Je Suis Charlie”
“Miss Sharon Jones!”

“A Flickering Truth”: As Afghanistan teeters on an unpredictable future, this uncovers the world of three dreamers and cinephiles, the dust of 100 years of war and the restoration of 8,000 hours of film archive that they risked their lives to conceal.

“A Journey of a Thousand Miles”: Bangladeshi female police officers leave their families to join a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti and challenge stereotypes about the capabilities of Muslim women.

“A Young Patriot”: This intimate documentary chronicles five years in the life of a young Chinese student, whose fervent idealism and dedication to Mao’s legacy stands in stark contrast to contemporary China’s turn towards state capitalism.

“Being AP”: This is an intimate documentary portrait of AP McCoy, the greatest jump jockey of all time. As he passes his 40th birthday, an age beyond which most jockeys are unable to continue, AP contemplates his obsession with winning, the years of sacrifice that he has endured to become a champion, the chase for a 20th successive title and a future without racing.

“Bolshoi Babylon”: After a brutal acid attack on the Bolshoi ballet company director Sergei Filin in 2013, this film follows the dancers and managers through a new season as they try to regain their status as a leading dance troupe.

“Dark Horse”: Set in a former mining village in Wales, this is the inspirational true story of Jan Vokes and her friends who decide to take on the elite “sport of kings” and breed a racehorse.

“Heart of a Dog”: This is Laurie Anderson’s personal essay film exploring themes of love, death, and language. The director’s voice is a constant presence as stories of her dog Lolabelle, her mother, childhood fantasies, and political and philosophical theories unfurl.

“Hitchcock/Truffaut”: In 1962, two of the greatest minds in cinema sat down for an intimate and expansive conversation. Based on the original recordings of this meeting, Kent Jones’s film plummets us into the world of the creator of “Psycho,” “The Birds” and “Vertigo.”

“Horizon”: A documentary about the late Icelandic painter Georg Gudni Hauksson, whose innovative interpretations of forms and ideas paved the way for a renaissance in Icelandic landscape painting.

“In Jackson Heights”: Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary is about the diverse neighborhood of Jackson Heights in Queens where 167 languages are spoken among immigrants from every continent, and half the population is foreign-born.

“It All Started at the End”: Filmmaker Luis Ospina recounts the history of El Grupo de Cali, the prolific bohemian artistic collective that revolutionized Colombian film and literature in the 1970s and ’80s.

“The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble”: This film from Morgan Neville tells the extraordinary story of the Silk Road Ensemble, an international musical collective created by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Correction: August 11, 2015
An earlier version of this post incorrectly included “Everest” among movies to be shown at the Toronto International Film Festival next month. “Everest” will open the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 2 but is not on the Toronto roster.

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