TIFF 2023

TIFF Announces Documentary Lineup, Featuring Latest From Lucy Walker

26 July, 2023

The Toronto International Film Festival announced its lineup of documentaries this morning, a slate that includes the world premiere of a film on uncancelled comedian Louis C.K., as well as fresh work from nonfiction greats Raoul Peck, Frederick Wiseman, Errol Morris, Lucy Walker, and Roger Ross Williams.

Sorry/Not Sorry, directed by Caroline Suh and Cara Mones, foregrounds women comedians who accused Louis C.K. of sexual harassment and the consequences they faced as a result. C.K. admitted in 2017 that he had exposed himself and masturbated in front of several women, which appeared to cancel his thriving standup and acting career. But after a pause he resumed standup performances before sold out crowds.

“It’s a really nuanced telling of the story produced by the New York Times,” TIFF chief documentary programmer Thom Powers told Deadline. “It’s been six years since the original New York Times reporting on this case. And I think there’s a lot more story to be told.”

Sorry/Not Sorry is among a considerable number of sales titles heading to Toronto. One that comes to TIFF with distribution – from Amazon – is Raoul Peck’s Silver Dollar Road, a film about an African American family in North Carolina that has spent decades trying to fend off developers intent on grabbing their land. Powers calls it “a very strong film… looking at Black resistance to systemic racism.” In 2016 Peck premiered his acclaimed James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro at TIFF, which went on to earn an Academy Award nomination. [Scroll for the full list of TIFF documentaries announced today].

Oscar winner Roger Ross Williams (whose 2016 film Life, Animated earned an Academy Award nomination the same year as I Am Not Your Negro) comes to TIFF with Stamped From the Beginning, based on the book by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. “Stamped From the Beginning is a history of anti-Black racist ideas,” Powers noted. Stamped is a Netflix title.

On Monday, we told you about Errol Morris’ upcoming documentary The Pigeon Tunnel, about the former British spy turned novelist David Cornwell, better known under his pen name John le Carré. That film, which premieres on Apple TV+ in October, will hold its international premiere at TIFF; we understand it will debut at Telluride.

Frederick Wiseman, who turned 93 this year, heads from Venice to Toronto with the gastronomic Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros, about the three-star Michelin restaurant west of Lyon, France.

“It’s mouthwatering for sure,” Powers said, quipping, “I strongly advise people to eat a good meal before you watch this film. Otherwise, it will be four hours of torture.”

Powers highlights the world premiere of the latest documentary from two-time Oscar nominee Lucy Walker, Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa, the extraordinary story of a Nepalese-born woman who has climbed Mt. Everest 10 times.

“Lhakpa Sherpa is a single mother, grew up in Nepal, illiterate. At the time of filming last year, she was working as a dishwasher at a Connecticut Whole Foods, raising two teenage daughters,” Powers said. “But she has another life as someone who has summited Mt. Everest more than any other woman. And this film is following her as she tries to do it again in an effort to make a better life for her daughters.”

Tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams are among the executive producers of world premiere Copa 71, a sales title directed by Rachel Ramsey and James Erskine. It’s the opening night doc at TIFF.

“This is about an international women’s soccer tournament held in 1971 in Mexico City, 20 years before the [first] official FIFA women’s World Cup,” Powers noted. “This event had over a hundred thousand spectators, which is the largest ever for women’s sports to this day. And yet, if you Google ‘the largest crowd for women’s sports,’ this event doesn’t even come up. It’s kind of been lost from history. It’s a beautifully made film. There’s a reason I chose it as opening night, just because the emotions of this film are so strong.”

The Mother of All Lies, directed by Asmae El Moudir, and Four Daughters, directed by Kaouther Ben Hania, will play at TIFF after sharing the L’Oeil d’or prize for the best documentary at the Cannes Film Festival. In the Rearview, director Maciek Hamela’s riveting documentary about Ukrainians trying to flee to Poland to escape the Russian invasion, which won the top prize at the Sheffield DocFest in June, heads to TIFF for its North American premiere.

“In the Rearview, I think, plays really interestingly alongside a new world premiere film we have called Walls by the Polish-Italian director Kasia Smutniak… exploring the so-called Red Zone of the border between Poland and Belarus, where great efforts are being made to discourage refugees from crossing that border, yet at the same time borders are being open to welcome Ukrainian refugees,” Powers said. “So, it’s really a kind of story of wanted refugees and unwanted refugees.”

A majority of the 22 titles announced today are for sale. It’s been a sluggish acquisition market dating back to Sundance, so the prospect of films being picked up at TIFF must be considered uncertain.

“There’s no question it’s been a very challenging year and I think we’re waiting for the moment, for the market to correct itself for people to realize that their viewers are going to need something more than just celebrity profiles and true crime [docs],” Powers said, adding with some optimism, “There’s quite a few sales titles this year that are coming in with strong representation from companies like CAA, UTA, Submarine, Dogwoof, Cinephil, et cetera. I think that’s a sign of the strength of what these companies hope are going to have some broad appeal of these films.”

The 48th edition of the Toronto Film Festival unspools from September 7-17. The lineup of narrative films was announced on Monday, with TIFF chief Cameron Bailey insisting the actors and writers strikes would not dim the star wattage at the festival. Powers does not anticipate the array of documentary premieres at TIFF being impacted by the ongoing labor dispute.

“There are very few documentaries in general that are made with WGA or SAG contracts,” he said. “By and large, this sector is pretty insulated from that [the strikes].”

One star who may make an appearance on behalf of a TIFF documentary is Hiam Abbass (Succession, The Visitor). The Palestinian-born actress is the subject of Bye Bye Tiberias, directed by her daughter Lina Soualem. It premieres in Venice before heading to Toronto. Powers said, “It really looks at [Abbass’] life and her decision to leave her homeland in Palestine to move to Paris and become an actress.”

Full Lineup HERE.