September 7-17th 2017: The Toronto International Film Festival Emphasises Boundary Breakers in the 2017 Documentary Selection

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2017 documentary line up features a selection of world premieres which spotlight black cultural icons figures, including;

TIFF Opening Documentary: Sophie Fiennes’ Grace Jones: Bloodlight & Bami (UK/Ireland) captures the legendary performer on and off stage, filmed over the course of a decade, which culminated in a 2016 sellout concert in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre. It offers a stylish and unconventional look at the Jamaican-born model, singer, and New Wave icon and was announced last Autumn as Grace Jones: The Musical Of My Life in the run up to the concert, when it secured a distribution deal with Picturehouse Cinemas.

Sam Pollard’s Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me (USA) presents a star-studded roster of interviewees, including Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, who pay tribute to the legendary, multi-talented song-and-dance Rat Packer, as part of the American Masters series.

Kate Novack’s The Gospel According to André on the trend-setting operatic fashion editor and writer André Leon Talley. His life and career from the segregated American South to the fashion capitals of the world are explored in a poignant portrait that includes appearances by Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Bethann Hardison, Valentino, and Manolo Blahnik.

Sara Driver’s Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat, on the formative years of the acclaimed artist. (USA) focusses on the pre-fame years of the record-breaking artist Jean-Michel Basquiat who became the highest-selling American artist at $110m for Untitled (Skull) in New York this summer. The film explores how New York City, its people, and  shifting arts culture of the late 1970s and ’80s shaped his vision.

Greg Barker’s The Final Year (USA) gives an unprecedented look at the shaping of US foreign policy by following key members of outgoing US President Barack Obama’s administration.

Anjali Nayar and Hawa Essuman’s Silas (Canada/South Africa/Kenya) presents a profile the life of Liberian activist Silas Siakor, a tireless crusader against illegal logging and a symbol of resistance for a new generation.

Also of interest (Women):

Erika Cohn’s The Judge (Palestine/USA), A verité legal drama about Judge Kholoud Al-Faqih, the first woman appointed to a Shari’a court in the Middle East, whose career provides rare insights into both Islamic law and gendered justice.

Matt Tyrnauer’s Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (USA) profiles Scotty Bowers, whom TIFF describes as a “sexual procurer“ for the stars, rather than ‘pimp’, who then wrote a bestselling memoir chronicling it all. I find myself surprised that TIFF describe it as “… a deliciously scandalous portrait of unsung Hollywood legend Scotty Bowers,” when it almost certainly would have involved the sexual exploitation of young women, and probably young men, considering Vanity Fair’s June 2016 exposé Classic Hollywood’s Secret: Studios Wanted Their Stars to Have Abortions.

TIFF Closing Documentary: Emmanuel Gras’ Makala (France) which won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes’ Critics Week, and portrays the heroic struggles of subsistence labourer Kabwita Kosongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo, struggling against harsh conditions to support his family in Makala.

TIFF Docs Programmer Thom Powers said, “Resistance is a key theme in this year’s documentaries… We pay witness to rebels challenging the status quo in art, politics, sexuality, religion, fashion, sports and entertainment. They speak powerfully to our times as audiences seek inspirations for battling powerful and corrupt systems.”

For the full TIFF Docs 2017 line up, visit


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