Toronto: Docs Soar Into Spotlight As Fest Hits Working Week

While red-carpet preems and celeb parades aren’t stopping anytime soon, the close of Toronto’s opening weekend brings a mood shift that widens the spotlight for festival docs and related biz.

Sunshine Superman,” Marah Strauch’s portrait of BASE-jumping pioneer Carl Boenish, soared into auds hearts at its two weekend screenings, scoring positive early reviews and, according to Submarine’s Josh Braun, now has momentum with multiple offers on the table.

Nick Broomfield’s look at the unsettling impact of alleged serial killer “Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” which Variety chief film critic called the veteran U.K. director’s “sharpest, most substantial work in at least a decade,” turned buyer heads in Telluride, with Sunday’s [SEPT 7] industry screening timed to heat up talks in advance of Wednesday’s international preem.

If Friday was Bill Murray Day, then Monday is (unofficially) Michael Moore day, with the 25th anniversary screening of the digital restoration of the influential “Roger and Me,” which introduced his trademark mix of activist filmmaking and humor to the world. Moore delivers a Tuesday keynote to kick off Toronto’s two-day Doc Conference.

Humor is also an essential ingredient in two of this year’s acquisition contenders.

“The Yes Men Are Revolting” (Cinetic), which world-preemed Friday, sees the activist-pranksters put climate change on the agenda. Co-director Laura Nix told Variety the duo brought her on board to shepherd the pic’s personal story. “The film is also about how you keep going as an activist after 20 years, about losing and regaining hope by joining with people to create something bigger than yourself,” explained doc vet Nix, who participated in early Yes Men actions. “The Yes Men excel at engaging with political issues by using humor, an approach we are constantly told has inspired people to get involved.”

New York journo David Thorpe’s “Do I Sound Gay?” (Cinetic), which world-preemed Sunday, was co-produced with Howard Gertler (“How to Survive a Plague”), with Impact Partners’ Dan Cogan and Jenny Raskin as exec producers. The doc features Thorpe’s own on-camera adventures, interviews (Margaret Cho, Dan Savage, David Sedaris) and archival clips. The first-time helmer told Variety his approach was guided in part by docs that achieved a wide impact by interweaving personal story and humor to get at a larger issue. “I’ve use humor in my journalism as a way to work through and embrace my anxieties, and found it a powerful way to confront taboo topics,” he said.

Definite fun will also be had Monday at midnight, with the international preem of Aussie Mark Hartley’s “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films,” a look at the premiere low-budget genre-pic powerhouse. Co-produced by Brett Ratner under his RatPac shingle (which holds North American rights), “Boogaloo” yielded raves following its bow in Melbourne last month. “One reason we decided to open it up for sale in Toronto is the interest we’ve been picking up from buyers, due in part, sadly, to the recent death of (Canon’s) Menahem Golan,” RatPat Documentary head Marie Therese Guirgis told Variety. “But it’s also a subject people worldwide are familiar with and want to see, so we’re excited to bring more attention to Mark’s brilliant filmmaking.”

Some of the most anticipated Toronto docs were snapped up by U.S. buyers in advance of their Venice or Telluride bows, and have yet to screen. Robert Kenner’s “Merchants of Doubt” (SPC) screens Tuesday, as does Joshua Oppenheimer’s Venice Jury Prize-winning “The Look of Silence” (Drafthouse), which Variety’s review called a “stunning followup” to his Oscar-nominated “The Act of Killing.” And last week Sundance Selects snapped up U.S. and Latin American rights to Ethan Hawke’s doc bow “Seymour: An Introduction,” screening Wednesday.

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