Toronto 2015: Lost Sydney Pollack film on Aretha Franklin leads docs section
More than 40 years ago, the late director Sydney Pollack began a movie about the recording of Aretha Franklin’s live double album “Amazing Grace” at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles.
But the sound and video were never adequately synced up, and the movie, also titled “Amazing Grace,” was lost to history.
The 1972 project has now been reclaimed and restored with the help of some new technology, and the finished film will be screened for the first time ever at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival, part of a supersized lineup of 31 documentaries to premiere at the gathering.
Many of them, like “Amazing Grace,” will concern music. Multiple Oscar winner Barbara Kopple will debut her new movie “Miss Sharon Jones!” about the personal and professional struggles of the titular R&B singer, while the festival will also premiere on this continent “Thru You Princess,” Ido Haar’s film that tracks the Israeli YouTube mixologist Kutiman’s discovery of a New Orleans musician known as Princess Shaw.
The influence of Yo-Yo Ma, meanwhile, will be documented with the world premiere of “The Music of Strangers” the follow-up from Oscar winner Morgan Neville (“20 Feet from Stardom”) focusing on Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble collective, while the director Kahlil Joseph will examine a rather different musical genre in “The Reflektor Tapes,” a glimpse behind the scenes of the Arcade Fire record.
“It’s hard to say they’re capitalizing on a wave because they come from so many different places,” Thom Powers, who runs Toronto’s docs section, told The Times of the musical bent. “But in a year when “Amy” is the top-grossing documentary there’s certainly a lot of interest in these stories.”
Toronto has become a premiere launching pad for documentaries in recent years, with movies such as the 2013 Oscar nominee “The Act of Killing” and last year’s award-season favorites “Red Army” and “Finding Vivian Maier” making key stops there. Doc filmmaking has grown exponentially with the rise of digital filmmaking, offering deep reservoirs for a mega-fest like Toronto.
The festival this year decided to reallocate slots in other sections and give more berths to nonfiction films; this year’s slate is more than 50% larger than the lineup in 2014.
In the same spirit as the Amy Winehouse film, the prolific director Amy Berg, fresh off the release of her controversial Hollywood-abuse movie “An Open Secret,” will unveil her Janis Joplin documentary “Janis: Little Girl Blue,” about the cut-short life of the American musical icon. That project, which features Cat Power reading the late musician’s letters. offers a counterpoint to a much-delayed dramatization of Janis Joplin’s life.
It’s hardly the only doc to offer a nonfiction response of sorts to a big Hollywood project. With the Josh Brolin-Jake Gyllenhaal epic “Everest” set to open the Venice Film Festival the week prior to TIFF, the Canadian fest will play “Sherpa,” Jennifer Peedom’s real-life look at the tragedy that struck 16 sherpas during an avalanche on Everest last year.
Other internationally themed tales dot the doc lineup. They include movies such as “He Named Me Malala,” Davis Guggenheim’s much anticipated look at the Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai; “Winter on Fire,” Evgeny Afineevsky investigation into the revolutionary events that rocked Ukraine a year-and-a-half ago; and “Je Suis Charlie,” Emmanuel and Daniel Leconte’s movie that profiles many of the cartoonist victims in January’s Charlie Hebdo attacks.
In a similar geopolitical vein, the festival previously announced that Michael Moore’s military pic “Where to Invade Next,” a movie he shot and edited entirely on the sly, will make its world premiere at the festival.
“Grace,” meanwhile, will bring its own intrigue. The project was completed in part at the behest of late Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler, who died in 2008, and was overseen by producer Alan Elliott, who in recent years picked up the trail on what had been a vaulted Warner Bros. project. Pollack also died in 2008.
With renditions of “Mary Don’t You Weep” and “Climbing Higher Mountains,” Franklin’s record is one of the best-selling live gospel albums of all time. The movie, whose commercial-release plans are unclear, could take on an added echo of timeliness after President Obama’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” in South Carolina this summer.
Also on Tuesday, TIFF announced the films for Midnight Madness, its nocturnal genre slate. Among the world premieres this year are the horror anthology pic “Southbound,” the supernatural tale “The Devil’s Candy” and the slasher movie “The Girl in the Photographs,” executive produced by Wes Craven.
The 11-day Toronto gathering, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, will kick off Sept. 10 with the world premiere of Jean-Marc Vallee’s wounded Wall Streeter tale “Demolition.”
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