DAILY NEWS: Docs in Toronto's Spotlight; Palm and Arthouse Pact; and Telefilm Canada Pitch Winner
by Eugene Hernandez, with a contribution by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE
>> ON THE SCENE TORONTO 2002: Lions Gate Strikes Again with "Stevie" as Docs Take the Spotlight
(indieWIRE: 09.12.02) -- Docs remain among the most exciting movies on the
annual festival circuit and this year's Toronto International Film Festival
is no exception.
Among the documentaries to grab the spotlight this week is the latest doc
from "Hoop Dreams" director Steve James which secured a theatrical deal
yesterday, just days after its world premiere here in Toronto. Lions Gate
acquired James' moving new film, entitled "Stevie," and will give it an
Oscar-qualifying run ahead of its February 2003 release. It was sold by
"Steve James has crafted a simply terrific and heartfelt portrait," Lions
Gate Films Releasing president Tom Ortenberg said yesterday in a prepared
statement. "'Stevie' is a more than worthy follow-up to 'Hoop Dreams' and
solidifies Steve as one of this generation's premiere filmmakers."
"Stevie," which indieWIRE wrote about in this column on the first full day
of the Toronto festival, is a moving, personal documentary that finds James
sucked back into the life of the title character. The filmmaker, who long
ago served as Stevie's Big Brother, decides to catch up with the grown-up
Stevie and capture the reunion on camera. As the story of Stevie's
impoverished, trailer-park life is revealed, the filmmaker and the audience
get more than they bargained for. Stevie is arrested for a horrifying crime
and James quickly becomes a part of the story, while at the same time
documenting his experience.
"James' new film is by turns moving and thoughtful," writes film reviewer
Peter Brunette in today's edition of indieWIRE, "And, always, deeply
respectful of the complexities of the warped lives it lays bare."
While the Toronto International Film Festival is known as a place to launch
the fall slate of potential Oscar contenders, this year the festival is also
the showcase for a trio of high-profile docs that will no doubt compete for
Oscar nominations. They are the aforementioned "Stevie," Michael Moore's
much discussed "Bowling for Columbine," and a doc from Austria, "Blind Spot,
Set to hit theaters later this year is Michael Moore's "Bowling for
Columbine," acquired by United Artists during the Cannes Film Festival back in May. Also reviewed today in indieWIRE, "Columbine" and filmmaker Moore
made waves earlier this week in Toronto.
The film's strongest argument is that most American violence is either
legally sanctioned -- police actions, military operations, and the like
-- or committed by citizens saturated with media-generated paranoia,"
wrote reviewers David Sterritt and Mikita Brottman in indieWIRE.
"Exhibit A is the hugely popular cable show 'Cops,' followed by nightly
news programs with their "if it bleeds it leads" mentality, often
permeated with a barely disguised racist subtext."
Also looking at politics and society is the festival doc, "Horns and Halos"
by Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley. The film fell into place quickly after
a major publisher dropped writer James Hatfield's biography of George W.
Bush ("Fortunate Son"), according to Hawley. The book was quickly picked up by Sander Hicks, a self-described punk with a raging political consciousness and
a gifted mind ready to release it through his upstart publishing company,
Soft Skull Press.
"We knew when Sander had his hand on his hips and said, 'We have a right!
[the] Bush camp is trying to tear us down, but we have a right...' we
knew then that we had a film."
The movie documents the painful effort of an author and publisher who
paddle against the surge of a political machine. Along the way,
according to Galinsky, the husband of the husband and wife
director team, the film encountered its own road blocks. "Nobody wanted
to pay attention to the movie after 9/11." But, added Hawley, "Enron
was the best thing to happen to us. Suddenly the shield was torn a
Despite their shot in the arm following successful showings here in
Toronto, Galinsky can't help but add grimly, "Tomorrow we're going to
bomb Iraq, and nobody's gonna want anything to do with this movie."
Among the other docs worth watching here in Toronto are a pair that were
acclaimed at the Los Angeles Film Festival back in June. Scott Hamilton
Kennedy's "OT: Our Town" was the winner of the documentary competition at
the 2002 LA Film Fest. It captures a Compton high school's determination to
stage its first student play in more than 20 years. Selected as a special
jury prize winner, Jeff Blitz' "Spellbound" is another Toronto entry in the
Real to Reel section. It brings viewers into the lives of a group of
children competing in the National Spelling Bee. Also screening in the
Festival's doc section are Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's "Lost in La Mancha" and a powerful documentary that debuted earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival.
Entitled "Blind Spot. Hitler's Secretary" (Im Toten Winkel. Hitlers
Sekretarin) the film won the Panorama prize in Berlin and was subsequently
acquired by Sony Pictures Classics for a release later this year. An
incredible historical document, the film by Andre Heller and Othmar
Schmiderer is a 90 minute digest of more than ten hours of interview footage
with the woman who served as Hitler's secretary from 1942 - 1945, Traudl
First written about in indieWIRE during the Berlin festival, this compelling
and moving film offers a first-hand, never before heard stories from inside
the Third Reich. Most powerful is the final act of the movie, in which Junge
details the final days with Hitler, Goebbels, Eva Braun and others in the
bunker near the site of present day Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, present day
home of the Berlin festival. Secretary Junge describes the guilt she feels,
her shame at not being more aware of what was really going on while she was
working for Hitler and her ultimate disappointment with him. At the
conclusion of the film's final Berlin showing, moviegoers were left in a
stunned silence and remained quietly in their seats as the lights came up.
[Eugene Hernandez in Toronto, with a contribution by Brian Brooks]
>> Arthouse Signs DVD Pact with Palm Pictures