Documentaries generate buzz at Toronto film festival

Fri Sep 14, 2012 3:57pm EDT
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By Julie Gordon

TORONTO (Reuters) - Documentaries are making waves at the Toronto film festival, exploring subjects ranging from abuse in the Catholic Church to brutal massacres in Indonesia, often in novel ways.

For the first time ever in Toronto, two non-music based documentaries were given the star treatment at the festival, with gala screenings of Liz Garbus' "Love, Marilyn" about Marilyn Monroe and Shola Lynch's "Free Angela and All Political Prisoners" about U.S. civil rights activist Angela Davis.

The 10-day Toronto International Film Festival, which ends on Sunday, serves as a kickoff to Hollywood's awards season and is considered a top venue for building documentary buzz.

Drawing headlines for its unusual style and brutal content, Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing" gives first-hand accounts of the military coup of Indonesia in 1965, which resulted in the deaths of more than one million alleged communists and ethnic Chinese.

The film follows the aging gangsters who perpetrated the killings and who remain national heroes in Indonesia.

Rather than have the men just recount their crimes, Oppenheimer allows them to gleefully re-enact the killings for his cameras, creating a chilling "film within the film" where the killers play both executioner and victim.

"I wanted to understand how do these people, and how does this society, imagine itself in such a way that this can be something to be celebrated," said Oppenheimer, a U.S. director now based in London.

With a handful of reviews in, the film is described as "bizarre, hypnotic, audacious" by the Globe and Mail, while Variety notes that the complex narrative often loses its thread.   Continued...

Actress Penelope Cruz arrives for the gala presentation of "Twice Born" at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival, September 13, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Blinch