The 2009 Toronto Documentary Forum - the largest doc market in North America - kicked off this morning on the campus of the University of Toronto, with hundreds of filmmakers, producers, broadcasters and distributors gathering to witness twenty-five presentations of documentary projects at various levels of completion. Despite an economic climate that isn't exactly conducive to stimulating the international co-production financing, the Forum - celebrating its tenth anniversary as part of the Hot Docs International Canadian Documentary Festival - wagered on.
"These last 10 years have seen unprecedented growth in our industry - a growth that has been clearly paralleled with the world's economy," TDF director Elizabeth Radshaw, having the unfortunate role of taking on her first year in the position in the midst of a recession, said. "While we have learned that this wider economic growth was built on a shaky foundation, let us not doubt that the growth in appetite for factual content and documentary film couldn't be more true and lasting."
Projects ranging from a story of a boy and his quest for a donkey to an examination of the Bush Administration's war crimes case to a detailing the dark closet of Rock Hudson will fill out the 2-day event, which culminates in the very first Good Pitch event in North America. But first, here's the lowdown on nine notable projects from the Toronto Documentary Forum:
A Donkeymentary: Through The Eyes of a Donkey
Directors: Arman Yeritsyan, Vardan Hovhannisyan
Producers: Vardan Hovhannisyan, Vahe Ohanan
Production Company: Bar Media
Proposed Delivery Date: 12/01/10
Financing Sought: $202,200 (72%)
The Lowdown: "This is a donkeymentary," the film's treatment begins. What this means is that it's a film that explores the small island of Lamu (off the coast of Kenya), which consists of 24,000 people, 6,000 donkeys, and 2 cars. "The donkey capital of Africa," the island is a place where donkey traffic jams occur, where the largest humanitarian organization is a donkey sanctuary, where donkeys are the key to earning a living, and where "a young boy's fondest dream is to have a donkey of his own." The film follows 14-year old Shefama as he pursues this dream. After winning a donkey race with a borrowed animal last year, Shefama is determined to provide for his family by owning his own, and winning more races. As the treatment notes: "Through Shefama's eyes we will see the traditions of Lamu's Swahili culture - the festivals, the music, the races and especially the donkey races."
god Is Not Great
Director: Jeff Scheftel
Producer: Carolyn Pfeiffer
Production Company: Magnolia Pictures/Magnet Releasing
Proposed Delivery Date: 09/01/2009
Financing Sought: $744,854 (80%)
The Lowdown: Closely following Christopher Hitchens' book of the same name (which spent 19 weeks on the New York Times' bestseller list), "god" will feature Hitchens' onscreen persona, and will be divided into sections similar to Hitchens' book ("The Pantheon of Religious Failure," for example, which looks at some eccentric sects that never quite made it to the status of "religion"). The film will feature interviews with figures like Ted Haggerty, once an evangelical superstar but now enjoying his new life post-revelation of his methamphetamine addiction and his use of drugs to enhance sex with gay prostitutes; Tony Blair, who recently converted to Catholicism; and Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, a crusader for the rights of women and the rule of law within both Islamic countries and those Western countries with Islamic immigrants. In the film's treatment, the producers state that through these interviews, Hitchens "will continue and enlarge his crusade against the sinister intrusion of superstition into the life of our planet."
The Guantanamo Trap - The War Crimes Case Against The Bush Administration
Director: Thomas Wallner
Producers: Amit Breuer, Thomas Kufus, ZeroOne Films
Production Company: Xenophile Media, Inc/Amythos Films
Proposed Delivery Date: 04/01/10
Financing Sought: $522,116 (56%)
The Lowdown: An HD doc that follows the journey of Murat Kurnaz, an innocent man and former Guantanamo detainee from Germany, "Trap" aims to explore "how people can get swept up in the great currents of history and how fate can propel them on twisted and unpredictable paths." Kurnaz was captured in Pakistan just after 9/11, and incarcerated for five years based on fabricated charges. He is now a key witness in the war crimes case against the Bush Administration. The film will draw on stock footage, personal testimonies and facts not available until recently to tell his story. The producers assert in their treatment: "In the coming year, the final chapter of Guantanamo, the secret CIA prisons and the illegal war on terror will be written during the making of this film."
MATCH+: A Story About Love in the Time of HIV
Directors: Priya Giri Desai, Ann S. Kim
Producers: Priya Giri Desai, Ann S. Kim
Production Company: N/A (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Proposed Delivery Date: Fall 2010
Financing Sought: $375,000 (93%)
The Lowdown: This film aims to tell the human story of HIV/AIDS through a new lens: the growing movement of HIV-positive marriages in India. "Despite stigma and controversy," "MATCH+"'s treatment notes, "doctors connect patients, NGOs run marriage bureaus, and singles place classified ads seeking HIV-positive matches." The film will focus on the specific story of AIDS doctor Suniti Solomon and her clinic, which has a matchmaking service for HIV-positive patients. Her voice will be integrated through the film to illustrate the trajectory of matchmaking in her patients. The treatment claims: "MATCH+ will create a larger story about a universal human truth: that all people - positive or negative - want to be accepted and loved as they are."
Rock Hudson: Dark and Handsome Stranger
Directors: Andrew Davies, Andre Schafer
Producer: Marianne Schafer
Production Company: FLORIANFILM GmbH
Proposed Delivery Date: 10/01/10
Financing Sought: $388,749 (71%)
The Lowdown: Rock Hudson died of AIDS 25 years ago, and it would have been his 85th birthday in November 2010, a month after "Dark and Handsome" aims to be completed. The doc aims to ask in reflection: Who was the real Rock Hudson? Was he a kind of invented personality? By examining the "intimate and private world" of Hudson through interviews with former co-stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Paula Prentiss, and "Dynasty"'s Heather Locklear and Linda Evans, as well as family members and friends, like novelist Armistead Maupin and Hudson's assistant of 10 years, Tom Clark. As the producers note: "The film will reveal a gay star doing a secret balancing act between the heterosexual world of an obviously very male-looking star and the dark side of forbidden sexuality as a closeted gay."
Directors: Annika Gustafson, Phil Jandaly
Producer: Annika Gustafson
Production Company: Bedouin Viking Inc.
Proposed Delivery Date: 09/10
Financing Sought: $204,000 (42%)
The Lowdown: "Sh*t!," as the producers note, is about solutions. Solutions to the serious threat that human bodily waste has on the world: In the West, under-dimensioned and decaying sewage systems leak into basements and rivers; A whopping 2.6 billion people are without toilets, forced to defecate in the streets (which poses the single largest threat to drinkable water and public health on the planet); 50% of the world's hospital beds are filled with sanitation-related cases. "We want our audience to feel the real danger behind ignorance of the problem before we present sensible, almost unbelievable solutions." So what are they? Many examples come from Sweden, where biogas digesters harvest "the innate power of poo" and turn into natural gas. As the film's treatment cleverly notes: "Imagine a world that sees poo for what it truly is - brown gold!"
Terror in Mumbai
Director: Morgan Matthews
Executive Producers: Nick Fraser, Greg Sanderson
Production Company: Minnow Films Ltd
Proposed Delivery Date: 08/09
Financing Sought: $510,000 (78%)
The Lowdown: Retelling the events of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, "Terror" aims to "unfold as a gripping cinematic thriller." The film will weave together filmed testimonies from survivors and victims' families with the back-story of the terrorists and their handlers, making us of the extraordinary catalogue of media-sourced and personal archives on the 60-hour ordeal. As the producers note in the "Terror"'s treatment: "From the backstreets of Mumbai to the palatial surroundings of Indian high society, this film will use award-winning director Morgan Matthews' trademark intimate observational style to tell the most astonishing and compelling stories in graphic and poignant detail."
Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People
Director: Thomas Allen Harris
Producers: Ann Bennett, Alison Duke
Production Company: Through The Lens Darkly, LLC
Proposed Delivery Date: 02/01/10
Financing Sought: $1,958,000 (78%)
The Lowdown: A "documentary and media outreach project," "Lens" explores how African-American and African diasporic communities have used photography as a way to create political, aesthetic, and cultural representations of themselves and their world. As the producers note: "This will be the first film to vividly bring to life the individual photographers and photographer collectives whose images and personalities helped define and transform the lives of African-Americans through the magic and power of the camera lens." Director Harris, a former photographer, will guide audiences through the project by building a dialogue across generations, time and geography. "Our project will invite audiences to creatively engage in their futures by fearlessly exploring their pasts," Harris said in the film's treatment.
Town of Runners
Director: Jerry Rothwell
Producers: Al Morrow, Dan De Missie
Production Company: Met Film Production
Proposed Delivery Date: 2010
Financing Sought: $208,800 (75%)
The Lowdown: This HD doc follows a group of young athletes in rural Ethiopia as they made the journey toward national track competitions. Set against a backdrop of sharply rising food and fuel prices, which have a huge impact on farming regions in Ethiopia, "Town" depicts coach Sentayehu Eshetu - who helped Derartu Tulu become the first African woman to win an Olympic gold medal - and his group of pupils, aged 12-18. Their preparation for defining races aims to, as the film's treatment notes, "understand the significance of running for them and the obstacles they face - to create a portrait of African youth seen not through the standard lens of poverty, but of ambition and hope."
For more information on these and other projects, please visit Toronto Documentary Forum's website.