By Steven Zeitchik
10:05 AM EDT, July 30, 2013
A chronicle of the life of Bob Guccione, an examination of the bank robber who inspired “Dog Day Afternoon” and a painterly inquiry from the latter half of Penn & Teller are among the documentaries receiving the world-premiere treatment from the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Organizers on Tuesday announced this year’s slate of nonfiction films, and they include some colorful subjects (and filmmakers).
Making their world premieres are “Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story,” Barry Avrich’s look at the tumultuous life of the iconoclastic Penthouse founder; Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren’s “The Dog,” an investigation into John Wojtowicz, the man behind the 1972 Brooklyn bank robbery that inspired Sidney Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon;” and “Tim’s Vermeer,” Teller’s story of a man named Tim Jenison and his quest to uncover the techniques of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.
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“Guccione” and “Dog” have received distribution deals, from cable-channel Epix and Sony Pictures Classics, respectively.
The festival will also screen Errol Morris’ “The Unknown Known” after it world-premieres at Venice about a week before. In the movie, out from Radius later this year, the “Fog of War” helmer offers his signature tough-question session with Donald Rumsfeld.
Thom Powers, who runs TIFF”s documentaries section, said that the film offered a worthy subject for Morris. The former defense secretary "proves to be as feisty a verbal duelist as we’ve come to expect," Power said. He added, "Whatever you think of Rumsfeld, no one's ever accused him of not being entertaining."
Other documentaries making their world premieres at the festival include ‘Mission Congo,’ David Turner and Lara Zizic’s examination of a cataclysmic African war; “Finding Vivian Maier,’ John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s search for a lost photographer; Chris Jordan’s “Midway,” about the plight of trash-ingesting albatross; and Madeleine Sackler’s “Unstable Elements,” about the underground Belarus Free Theater.
Also among the twenty titles screening in the docs section are a number of films that made their debut elsewhere, including Sarah McCarthy’s “The Dark Matter of Love,” about the messy integration of foreign-born children with the Wisconsin family that adopts them and “At Berkeley,” Frederick Wiseman’s exploration of the famed Northern California university. Cannes ‘13 favorites—including Claude Lanzmann’s Holocaust film “Last of the Unjust” and Frank Pavrich’s “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” about the Chilean auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky’s misbegotten quest to make a movie of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi staple—will also be screened.
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The festival will also show a new cut of “The Square,” Jehane Noujaim’s verite exploration of the Egyptian revolution. The film initially premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, but Noujaim and her team have been shooting footage of the unrest since then, and the new cut is being referred to as a world premiere.
While documentaries at Toronto can sometimes be overshadowed by the star-laden awards hopefuls that premiere there, the festival has a deep nonfiction tradition, in recent years debuting favorites such as country-music politics doc “Dixie Chicks: Shut up & Sing” (2006), Werner Herzog’s 3-D art pic “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” (2010) and Indonesian paramilitary exploration “The Act of Killing” (2013).
And though the films there must compete with the star-laden narrative debuts, Powers said he saw it as his mission to level the playing field. “We’ve focused a lot of energy on making as much noise with the documentaries to put them on equal ground with any fiction film” he said. “We do that with the quality of the fiction films and with a host of dynamic characters who are the subjects of those films.”
On Tuesday Toronto organizers also announced premieres in other sections, including a slate of Greek movies for its City to City program, which this year focuses on Athens, as well as its selections under the Vanguard label, which includes a world premiere of South Korean Yeon Sang-Ho’s animated tale “The Fake” and Cannes favorites such as Jeremy Saulnier’s “Blue Ruin” and Alex van Warmerdam’s “Borgman.”
The 11-day festival kicks off Sept. 5 with the world premiere of Bill Condon’s Wikileaks film “The Fifth Estate.”
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Meredith Blake contributed to this report.
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