I'm not sure whether it was a theme of the festival overall this year, or just the ones I picked, but I saw quite a few films that were either based on true life stories, and/or documentaries about people's lives.
A couple of these documentaries: Yes Madam, Sir, and Waltz with Bashir, I already blogged about, and here is my attempt to fill you in on a few more.
More Than a Game
This wasn't one of my first choices and to be honest, while I'd heard the name Lebron James before, I had no idea who he was or that he was even one of the subjects of this film when I put it down as a second choice. I just knew it was a film about high school basketball and I didn't have anything better to see in that time slot.
Well, I'm glad I went, if only for the experience of being in the theatre which was filled with hundreds of teenage boys who were clearly there to see LeBron more than they were there to see the film, but were extremely excited. The room really buzzed. And it's a good film. The filmmaker followed Lebron's high school basketball team over it's career and the director must have been very young when he started shooting this, because he barely looks 30 now. The film also contains TV and home movie footage of the boys playing as young as eight years old and their story of friendship and loyalty and hard work really was inspirational. (Although the grainy TV footage was a little hard to watch from my 2nd row middle vantage point. But being at the feet (literally, I think I could have touched his pant leg had I tried) of Lebron during the Q&A almost made up for that.) It was touching during the Q&A to see 4 of the 5 young men on stage (one, Sian, couldn't come because he's currently playing College football and had a game) and all the men were in tears a few times. My favorite part of the story was how they ended up playing for a mostly white Catholic high school, instead of the mostly black high school everyone expected them to go to. One of the boys (now men) Dru, was very small at 14 and it became clear to him that the coach at the school they were expected to go to was not going to let him play. So he went to talk to the coach at the other school who recognized the kid's talent (in spite of his size) and made it clear he'd give him a chance. So Dru announced to his Dad and friends he was going to this mostly white Catholic high school and all of this friends followed him there including Lebron. The school went from not even being on the charts in high school basketball land in their first year to being the National Champs by their senior year. It was a great documentation of not only the friendship/loyalty/sportsmanship that I mentioned before, but also how hypocritical the media/system is toward amateur sport. They build this kid up to be a huge celebrity while still in high school, and then penalize him for it. Great film. Not sure if it'll get a wide release, but I'm sure it'll at least end up in rotation on cable TV channels.
Paris, Not France
Jumping from inspirational to the ridiculous, was another documentary about celebrity. This doc film maker followed Paris Hilton around for a few years and the movie was touted to expose much about the heiress we didn't know... But I have to say, there was nothing new in it for me. Yes, this woman is smarter in real life than her reality TV persona would imply. But the constant "I work so hard" started to grate when the evidence of her working was simply jetting around the world to show up at meetings to approve the hard work other people have done on her behalf. She was at the screening (in spite of some rumors she was trying to block the film and the number of screenings being cut from 3 to 1 after the festival programme was published) and it was interesting to have her there. But I was proud of most of the audience members. Yes, there were a few truly obnoxious people who stood in the aisle with their camera's taking multiple photos of her while the film was being introduced, but for the most part people were pretty cool. The one thing I wondered about... There were several moments when I think things she said might have received a laugh from the audience had she not been there, but like typical Canadians, we were too polite to laugh at her expense with her in the room.
Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love
On the same vein of docs about real life people, this film about African musician Youssou Ndour was also entertaining, but didn't blow me away. He first rose to World attention when he sang with Peter Gabriel, but he's quite famous both in Africa and in many countries in Europe -- particularly France. He is talented and his story was interesting, but I felt like it pulled back from discussing the main topic, which was the negative reaction he received in his native Senegal an in other Muslim countries, when he released an album of sacred music. The original planned release of this album was very near September 11, 2001. He held off for a few years, but the negative reactions didn't come from non-Muslims, but from Muslims who believed it wasn't right for a "pop singer" to be singing religious music. I must admit much of this film has faded from memory, as I saw it early in the festival, but I doubt it'll get a theatrical release in North America. One interesting sidenote. I saw a man in the audience (amongst the reserved seats) who looked a lot like Danny Glover, but older. The next day, I saw a photo of Danny Glover at the TIFF that made me think it had been Danny Glover I saw... But I'm not 100% sure. He sat across the aisle and about 5 rows up from me, so mostly I was looking at the back of his head.
And to round out my list of documentaries:
Harvard Beats Yale 29-29
I exchanged a ticket for a Colin Firth film (Genova) to see this one, based on the recommendation of some friends from Indiana, (Brian and Michael), I met at the 2002 Film fest and have seen most years since then. I figured the Colin Firth one will hit theatres and this one might not.
And it was really entertaining. Especially considering it's about a college football game that happened nearly 40 years ago. But it was excellent story telling. The film is interspersed with clips from the game in chronological order, so that you feel like you actually have seen the game by the end, and most of the footage is interviews of the players (including Tommy Lee Jones who was one of the Harvard team members.) Really interesting how "characters" came out in the interviews and how the men remember (or misremember) so many details so many years later. By clever editing of the clips, the filmmaker really paints a picture of the rich, priveliged (and very talented at football) Yale boys against the not-so-privileged (or talented at football) Harvard boys. A really fun underdog comes from behind story and a great view back to the late 60's when so much was going on at American Universities (although not so much at Yale, it seems.)
Even though you know the outcome of the game from the title of the film... it was really exciting to watch and impossible right up to the end to imagine how the score will come out that way. Audience members were cheering or groaning as plays were made or missed.
The film also has lots of fun little surprises (like Tommy Lee Jones) who was such a sourpuss it was funny. Yes, most of us know that Al Gore was Tommy Lee Jones's college roommate, but it was fun to watch TLJ reluctantly talk about that. Hilarious when he tells the interviewer how funny Al Gore was and then tries to think of examples... but TLJ is so not funny that even if these things were funny when Al did them, they aren't funny now. Another of the players (a Yale player, if memory serves) was dating Meryl Streep during college (and there were photos of them together) and other players knew a rowdy, drunken rich boy who was constantly in hot water named George W. Bush. Fun film. Don't know if it's commercial enough to get a big release, but like More than a Game I'm sure it'll show up on cable TV and/or on DVD at a minumum.