It's Day 5 of the Toronto Film Festival and while a new crop of documentaries are being unveiled this weekend, three that debuted at this year's Sundance fest are making box office waves in the US...
RJ Cutler's THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE went wide this weekend - really wide - and, for a change, the expansion was a huge success. After a two-week NY run that sported one of the best debuts of the year, the Vogue Magazine doc expanded to more than 100 theaters and still managed to average $6,577 per. That pushes SEPTEMBER ISSUE past $1.25M, making the Roadside Attractions release the 8th nonfiction of 2009 surpass the magical million dollar mark. With both Michael Moore's latest as well as Sony's Michael Jackson doc coming this fall, the year should have a minimum of 9 films clearing that hurdle - at least one more than last year.
The success of SEPTEMBER means it will likely become - by next weekend if not sooner - the highest grossing film yet for A&E IndieFilms. Currently, MURDERBALL - ironically considered by some to be a disappointment at the time - holds that honor, with just over $1.5 million in box office receipts. It's also a bit of a balm for Roadside Attractions, which had high hopes for its other big Sundance acquisition, THE COVE - only to find disappointing audience response.
In more limited release, two other Sundance 2009 docs did well: Joe Berlinger's CRUDE had a terrific exclusive engagement at NYC's IFC Center, making more than $16K on that single screen this weekend. Laura Gabbert's NO IMPACT MAN averaged nearly $9K on two screens in NY and LA, making that film the strongest debut yet for an Oscilloscope Labs release.
All four of the above films are in the Oscar hunt - the rules this year allow September theatrical openings as long as they were booked in advance. And where in past years August was the month for Angelenos and New Yorkers to get a sneak peak (in largely empty theaters) of films hoping for the Academy to shine a spotlight of them, a quick glance at the Now Playing and Coming Soon sections of LA arthouse chain Laemmle Theatres website confirms that September is now the month for Oscar qualifying runs.
Now playing at Laemmle's cavernous downtown theater? KASSIM THE DREAM, Los Angeles Film Festival champ THOSE WHO REMAIN (please tell me they didn't spend their $50K on that) and the Hollywood biopic, MARY PICKFORD: THE MUSE OF THE MOVIES. Or if you want to get a sneak peak at a likely contender for this year's out-of-nowhere Holocaust film to make the Shortlist, you can check out AGAINST THE TIDE (narrated by Dustin Hoffman!). Other documentary options sure to play to mostly empty houses (because there's no reviews, press, ads, etc., and because it's in a low-traffic theater, not because of the quality of the films themselves): the "inspirational documentary" TEN9EIGHT, an AIDS doc called WHY US? LEFT BEHIND AND DYING and the unexplained OH MY GOD and COAL COUNTRY.
There's a whole crop of these docs hitting downtown LA in the next couple weeks, including the intriguingly titled HAWAII A VOICE FOR SOVEREIGNTY and the not quite a pallindrome MICHAEL LEGRAND IS MUSIC MUSIC IS MICHAEL LEGRAND.
STUFF WE MISSED THESE PAST FEW WEEKS: We took a late summer hiatus to do some shooting in Southwest Missouri and to explore the super trifecta of late summer in the Midwest. While we did, we missed a number of notable developments in nonfiction:
Leading up to this year's Toronto International Film Festival we saw a brewhaha sparked by Canadian documentary filmmaker John Greyson when he pulled his short doc, COVERED, from the festival to protest TIFF's selection of Tel Aviv for its City-to-City program. Greyson argued that the selection of Tel Aviv, which he said was "built on destroyed Palestinian villages", was to "pointedly ignore the international economic boycott campaign against Israel". Greyson accused TIFF of "taking sides" in the Isreal/Palestine conflict. Greyson's move found support among a group of actors and activists (famously including Danny Glover, Jane Fonda and Ken Loach) and subsequently strong opposition from others (including Canadian-born filmmakers David Cronenberg, Ivan Reitman and Norman Jewison).
In writing about the debate in the LA Times Friday, Patrick Goldstein quotes Reitman saying:
This is another in a string of debates between filmmakers, festivals and audiences over the past few months (see BANANAS!*, see RACHEL) and, as if to bring the whole thing full circle, the folks at Jewish Voice for Peace - who were in the middle of the RACHEL controversy at the SF Jewish Fest - are deep in the midst of the current Toronto debate, offering a "fact sheet" for "Fighting the Lies" surrounding the TIFF/Tel Aviv issue.
Less controversial at TIFF this weekend was the launch of the Toronto Documentary Conference, at which Liesl Copland of William Morris Endeavor (formerly of Netlix/Red Envelope, formerly of Cinetic) gave the keynote. While the gist of her speech (indieWIRE has the full text) is more broadly for the general indie film world (as opposed to doc-centric), there's lots for filmmakers to mull over. Here's an excerpt:
And finally... Filmmaker/photographer Christian Poveda (LA VIDA LOCA) was killed on September 2 while filming in El Salvador, ambushed and shot dead by gangs there. The BBC's Nick Fraser wrote about Poveda for The Guardian:
In LA VIDA LOCA, which was the result of more than four years' work, he looked at the lives of teenage gangsters of San Salvador, focusing on the heavily tattooed Mara 18 gang, filming gang initiations, dope dealing and smoking, and funerals. Gang members are killed in the film, and it's clear that few if any of the picturesquely named children (one of them is called "La Chucky", after the protagonist of the horror film Child's Play) will ever reach adulthood. "We must try to understand why a child of 12 or 13 joins a gang, and gives his life for it," he said. Christian wanted us to see that for these children, there can be no other outcome. Like the best of his work, the film is raw, beautiful and involving."
The LA Times spoke to Poveda about LA VIDA LOCA in April:
“If you want to improve things, the first thing to know is that it’s not about making the gangs disappear. They need to be given another focus.”"
More this week from Toronto as we look at the critical reception for this year's doc crop.