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TORONTO ’08 | Columbia ’68, Youssou Ndour, Valentino, and Varda in TIFF Doc Spotlight

TORONTO '08 | Columbia '68, Youssou Ndour, Valentino, and Varda in TIFF Doc Spotlight

Twenty-six documentaries have been added to the lineup for the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival. A work-in-progress of Paul Cronin‘s “A Time to Stir,” about the Columbia University student strike in 1968, will screen as a work-in-progress in the event’s Mavericks section, while the world premiere of Chai Vasarhelyi‘s “Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love,” about the acclaimed musicisian, is on tap for the festivals Special Presentations section. Set for a North American premiere, after screening at the Venice Film Festival, are Matt Tyrnauer‘s “Valentino: The Last Emperor” (Special Presentations) and Agnes Varda‘s self-portrait “Les Plages d’Agnes” (Masters). Twenty-two other documentaries have been announced for the Toronto fests’s Real to Reel section.

“Documentary-making continues to flourish,” said TIFF programmer Thom Powers, in a statement today. “Every year there are more films that command the big screen. There has been a short-sighted focus on the recent lack of a documentary blockbuster. In the larger picture, more docs are getting funded and released theatrically than ever before.”

The titles join the previously announced TIFF documentary selections “Religulous,” directed by Larry Charles (USA); “Every Little Step,” directed by James Stern and Adam Del Deo (USA); “Waltz with Bashir, directed by Ari Folman (Israel/France/Germany); “Blind Loves,” directed by Juraj Lehotsk, Slovakia); “Examined Life,” directed by Astra Taylor (Canada); “La Memoire des anges,” directed by Luc Bourdon (Canada); and “Under Rich Earth,” directed by Malcolm Rogge (Canada).

Toronto International Film Festival Documentary Selections announced today:


A Time to Stir,” directed by Paul Cronin, USA (Work in Progress)
This epic four-hour work looks at the tumultuous events of the Columbia University student strike in 1968 that ended in police violence and signaled a dramatic political shift between old left and new left. The film captures the intoxicating uprising and sobering aftermath, interviewing students, professors and police. Screening on the last day of the Festival, this special Mavericks presentation will include a discussion with three active participants of the strike: Mark Rudd of Students for a Democratic Society (who later was a member of the Weather Underground), Bill Sales of the Student Afro-American Society and Carolyn Eisenberg, who served on the strike committee.


Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love,” directed by Chai Vasarhelyi, USA (World Premiere)
One of Africa’s most prominent musical exports, Youssou Ndour’s distinctive tenor voice became internationally known through a string of popular tracks, including collaborations with Peter Gabriel and the hit “7 Seconds” with Neneh Cherry. Having used his fame to draw attention to a range of political issues, Ndour was named one of Time Magazine‘s 100 most influential people in the world in 2007. Several years in the making, “Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love” follows Ndour as he releases the deeply personal album Egypt as an expression of his Islamic faith, challenging Western stereotypes of the religion while stirring controversy in his home country of Senegal.

Valentino: The Last Emperor,” directed by Matt Tyrnauer, USA (North American Premiere)
Filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer (Special Correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine) gains unprecedented access to the renowned fashion designer and his entourage, offering an intimate, engaging, and very funny fly-on-the-wall exploration of the singular world of one of Italy’s richest and most famous men. Telling the story of the famous designer’s extraordinary life, remarkable artistry and unique relationship with his business partner and companion of 50 years, Giancarlo Giammetti, Valentino: The Last Emperor documents the colourful and dramatic closing act of Valentino’s celebrated career while exploring the larger themes affecting the fashion business today.


Les Plages d’Agnes,” directed by Agnes Varda, France (North American Premiere)
Legendary filmmaker Agnes Varda looks back on her life and work, using beaches as a window to memory. In Belgium, California, the South of France and in Paris, Varda composed her own self-portrait via photographs, film clips and some surprising encounters.

A scene from Robert Kenner’s “Food, Inc.” Photo courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival.


After the Race,” directed by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Austria (World Premiere)
Following the tracks of the famous Dakar rally, filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter (“Our Daily Bread”) sets off on a journey from Europe to Africa, documenting European ideas of and prejudices toward Africans, and vice versa.

American Swing,” directed by Matthew Kaufman, USA (World Premiere)
Chronicling the rise and fall of the notorious public sex club Plato’s Retreat and its quixotic owner, “American Swing” captures the hedonistic heyday of New York nightlife in the 1970s. As the city hurtled toward bankruptcy and social unrest, its citizens partied on.

At the Edge of the World,” directed by Dan Stone, USA (World Premiere)
Controversial Canadian eco-warrior Paul Watson leads two ships of his Sea Shepherd volunteers on a pirate-like voyage, full of breathless suspense, to stop Japanese whaling vessels in the Antarctica Sea.

The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World,” directed by Weijun Chen, China (World Premiere)
The director of last year’s crowd-pleaser “Please Vote For Me” returns with a look at the West Lake Restaurant in Changsha, China – the world’s largest restaurant. With a staff of nearly 1000 (including 300 chefs) and 5000 seats, West Lake is a combination theme park and eatery, offering a cross section of the country’s changing society.

Blood Trail,” directed by Richard Parry, UK (World Premiere)
War photographer Robert King let a camera crew follow him for over 15 years. From his first assignment in Bosnia to his breakthrough work in Chechnya, and on to his recent coverage in Iraq, “Blood Trail” is an extraordinary look at this difficult and dangerous profession.

Citizen Juling,” directed by Ing K, Kraisak Choonhavan and Manit Sriwanichpoom; Thailand (World Premiere)
A powerfully humanistic documentary that examines the issue of Islamic insurgency in Southern Thailand within the context of the country’s unstable democracy, triggered after a Buddhist teacher, Juling, was kidnapped and found lying in a pool of blood.

The Dungeon Master,” directed by Keven McAlester, USA (World Premiere)
This whimsical look at three adults deeply involved with Dungeons & Dragons explores how the game affects their lives and relationships, with finely crafted cinematography by Lee Daniel (known for his work with Richard Linklater) and a music score by Blonde Redhead.

Food, Inc.,” directed by Robert Kenner, USA (World Premiere)
Drawing upon the reportage of Eric Schlosser (“Fast Food Nation”) and Michael Pollan (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma”), this searing investigation explores the dramatic changes that big business has imposed on how and what we eat.

From Mother to Daughter,” directed by Andrea Zambelli, Italy (World Premiere)
After the Second World War, many young Italian women earned their living in the rice fields, spending hours every day working under the hot sun. Over 50 years later, having lost none of their spirit, they rekindle their friendships by forming a singing group.

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29,” directed by Kevin Rafferty, USA (World Premiere)
Kevin Rafferty, co-director of “Atomic Cafe,” examines the tumult of 1968 through the memories of football players (including Tommy Lee Jones) who took part in a legendary game that year between rival Ivy League schools whose student bodies included Al Gore (Harvard) and George Bush (Yale).

It Might Get Loud,” directed by Davis Guggenheim, USA (World Premiere)
The Academy Award-winning director of “An Inconvenient Truth” celebrates the electric guitar by examining the creative process of three virtuosos – Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, The Edge of U2 and Jack White of The White Stripes – including their individual development of songs not yet released.

Killing Kasztner,” directed by Gaylen Ross, USA (World Premiere)
Dr. Israel Kasztner helped rescue over 1,600 Hungarian Jews during the Second World War, yet he was later branded a traitor by right-wing extremists in Israel and assassinated. Uncovering new revelations about the case, this film explores Kasztner’s legacy.

More Than a Game,” directed by Kristopher Belman, USA (World Premiere)
First-time filmmaker Kristopher Belman had the foresight to follow the journey of a remarkable high school basketball team in Akron, Ohio, that happened to include future NBA superstar LeBron James.

The Real Shaolin,” directed by Alexander Sebastien Lee, China/USA (World Premiere)
Rich with dazzling displays of Kung Fu, this film follows two Chinese and two western students as they undergo a year of rigorous training in martial arts at the Shaolin temple in Central China.

Sea Point Days,” directed by Francois Verster, South Africa (World Premiere)
Lying on the coast of Cape Town, there is one public space where everyone seems to come together: the Sea Point Promenade and Municipal Pools. Set between city and ocean, this beautiful strip of “everyman’s land” offers a quirky mix of class, race, gender and religion – a place where South Africans of all backgrounds can experience happiness together. But is all as it appears?

Soul Power,” directed by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, USA (World Premiere)
With performances by James Brown, B.B. King, Bill Withers, The Spinners and more, Soul Power documents the vibrant and powerful concert that accompanied George Foreman and Muhammad Ali’s “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire in 1974.

Unmistaken Child,” directed by Nati Baratz, Israel (World Premiere)
Declared the greatest Tibetan master of our time, Lama Konchog passed away in 2001, at the age of 84. In this visually stunning, emotionally gripping documentary, shot over the course of four years, Lama Konchog’s shy and devoted disciple, Tenzin Zopa, must search for his master’s reincarnation – an “unmistakable child” – and successfully remove him from his parents’ care.

Witch Hunt,” directed by Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, USA (World Premiere)
Voters in Bakersfield, California, elected a tough-on-crime District Attorney into office for more than 25 years. During his tenure, dozens of innocent working class moms and dads were sent to prison on charges of sexual abuse. Executive producer Sean Penn presents and narrates this gripping indictment of the American justice system told through the lens of one small town.

Yes Madam, Sir,” directed by Megan Doneman, Australia/India (World Premiere)
Narrated by Helen Mirren, “Yes Madam, Sir” portrays the life story of India’s first woman police officer. Adored by the masses and vilified by her critics, Karin Bedi has publicly fought high-level corruption and brutal opposition, at great personal and professional cost.

Peace Mission,” directed by Dorothee Wenner, Germany (International Premiere)
The Nigerian home-movie industry has risen to immense popularity throughout Africa. Founder of the African Academy, Peace Anyiam-Fiberesima presents a guided tour through “Nollywood,” taking the audience to film locations, markets and celebrity hangouts in Lagos to meet key personalities from the Nigerian film industry.

Shakespeare and Victor Hugo’s Intimacies,” directed by Yulene Olaizola, Mexico (North American) Premiere
Twenty years ago, Rosa met Jorge, a young tenant in her lodging house at the corner of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo streets in Mexico City. But after Jorge’s sudden death, Rosa began to discover a darker side of the man who had become her closest friend.

Upstream Battle,” directed by Ben Kempas, Germany (North American Premiere)
An intricate political battle plays out over water in Northern California, pitting Native American activist Merv George of the Hoopa tribe against an international power company that has Warren Buffett as a major shareholder.

Coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival is available in indieWIRE’s special section.

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