Leonardo DiCaprio interviewing President Obama about the environment.
Revisiting the Amanda Knox case from the perspectives of both the prosecution and famous defendant.
A look at the so-called 6th Beatle.
Documentaries on these subjects — as well as new work from Errol Morris, Steve James and Werner Herzog — will be among the movies playing the Toronto International Film Festival when the gathering kicks off next month.
Toronto's doc section is one of the best-regarded on the global festival circuit. The 2016 edition will focus on a mix of social topics and boldfaced personalities, with many movies seeking to offer a measure of timely clarity.
"For people tired of the circular nature of American electoral politics," Thom Powers, who heads up the festival’s doc section, told The Times, "a lot of these films take the longer view."
Among the most intriguing is "The Turning Point." The film has DiCaprio and actor-director Fisher Stevens offering a kind of "Inconvenient Truth" for a new age, with DiCaprio touring the world interviewing global leaders and other well-known figures on the subject of the environment. .
The film is notable both for its celebrity interviewer — DiCaprio is not often seen on camera outside his acting roles — and its potential to engage viewers on more wonky matters of policy. The star has been working on the film for years and reportedly can be seen in the film conducting some of the interviews while still wearing his "The Revenant" beard.
National Geographic, a longtime doc player that recently returned to the space, is expected to air the film across its global platforms in the fall.
A different hot-button issue comes to the fore with "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail," James' look at the 2008 financial crisis through the prosecution of a bank in New York's Chinatown. The director, who has an eclectic career with films as diverse as "Hoop Dreams" and "Life Itself," focuses on the roiling waters of urban enclaves, as he did in his 2011 Chicago-set "The Interrupters."
Meanwhile, global politics takes center stage with "The War Show," Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon's exploration of the Syrian civil war from a more intimate perspective, while "Karl Marx City" has doc veterans Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker examining the current state of U.S. surveillance via the GDR native Epperlein's inquiry into her supposedly Stasi-affiliated father.
And because the only subject perhaps more potent than politics is politics and sports, TIFF will offer a rare hat trick of films that combine both elements: Maya Zinshtein's "Forever Pure," about the controversial fans of Israeli soccer club Beitar Jerusalem; Erin Heidenreich's "Girl Unbound," which focuses on a talented female Pakistani squash player defying the Taliban's edicts in her hometown; and "Gaza Surf Club," in which Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine look at the wave-riders of the embattled region
Nor are foreign issue-based films always strictly about people. In "The Ivory Game," from Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani, the filmmakers use a dense narrative and thriller conventions to go undercover and tell of the ivory cartels that traffic in African elephants.
The directors are bringing the movie north of the border after a likely Telluride run in the hope of maximizing its impact.
"Elephants stand in for so many animals who are in danger of becoming extinct if we don't do something," Davidson, who directed the Oscar-winning doc "The Open Heart," told The Times. "Getting it out as quickly as possible is what's most critical, when bans can still be enacted and the elephants can be saved." (Netflix will release the movie later in the fall.)
Meanwhile, Morris — while known in recent years for charged government-themed investigations like "The Fog of War" and "Standard Operating Procedure" — takes a break from politics to chronicle the portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman in "The B-Side." Dorfman is known for her innovation, and ongoing practice, in using uncommonly large-sized Polaroids. Longtime friend Morris walks viewers through her career and deep archive in the movie whose details had until now been kept under wraps.
Documentaries currently occupy an unusual place in pop culture, surging in interest thanks to longform crime-themed pieces such as "The Jinx," "Making a Murderer" and, most recently and broadly,"O.J.: Made in America."
While TIFF this go-round will stick to standard-length features, crime is nonetheless on its mind.
With "Amanda Knox," Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst examine the incidents that led to both the Italian conviction and ultimate acquittal for an alleged murder by the title subject. The film is likely to engender passions, and possibly even competing viewpoints, on both sides of the Atlantic.
In "I Called Him Morgan," Kasper Collin looks at a notorious 1970s incident in which jazz musician Lee Morgan was shot by his wife at a New York club.
"I don't think it's a reactive trend. But with the crop of these films it's clear that crime has recently been of great interest to filmmakers," Powers said.
Other documentary subgenres will also be represented at Toronto
The Haitian director and activist Raoul Peck seeks to use film to complete a literary work from the African American author and thinker James Baldwin in "I Am Not Your Negro," a movie that is expected to tap into the modern currents of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Fans of the urbanist Jane Jacobs — who would have turned 100 this year — will get a glimpse of both Jacobs’ philosophy and modern and future urban living via Matt Tyrnauer's "Citizen Jane." Jacobs is a key figure in the history of Toronto, moving there in midlife and helping to fight the suburbanization of the city much as she did previously in New York.
Because he's, well, Werner Herzog, the director is following up his tech-themed Sundance movie "Lo & Behold" with "Into the Inferno," in which he and Clive Oppenheimer ruminate on the nature of global volcanoes. ("Indonesia, Ethiopia, Iceland and North Korea" all figure in the film, a news release about the program promises, in a movie that "blends reportage, history, and philosophy."
And in keeping with a music focus at Toronto in recent years, Tony Guma and John Rose take on "The 6th Beatle," focusing on the working-class Liverpool native Sam Leach, who touted the Beatles before being replaced by upscale manager Bran Epstein, while John Scheinfeld looks at the life of John Coltrane in "Chasing Trane."
TIFF kicks off Sept. 8 with the world premiere of Antoine Fuqua's "The Magnificent Seven."
On Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT
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