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TIFF’s Real to Reel section boosts heavy subject maters and heavyweight directors

I’m not sure what the previous years have churned out, but this year’s Real to Reel (TIFF's doc section) packs a wallop: either the film’s selected happen to have a muscle name among doc filmmakers attached or the docu subject will raise more than one eyebrow. Among the mix we have Phil Donahue’s Body of War – a doc that is coming to the fest with ample buzz, we have film critic Todd McCarthy’s documentary of a Cannes fest icon Pierre Rissient who makes the term 'cinephile' sound like a disease, and after a successful crossover into feature films, Kevin Macdonald looks into the mind of Gestapo commander Klaus Barbie, a.k.a the Butcher of Lyon. Here is the complete list:

ALGERIE, HISTOIRES A NE PAS DIRE Jean-Pierre Lledo, Algeria
Four Algerians of Muslim origin revisit the last years of their country's War of Independence, searching for truth about their own lives while recalling memories of troubled relationships with their Jewish and Christian neighbours.

BODY OF WAR Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, USA
Wounded after serving in Iraq for less than a week, 25-year-old Tomas Young – now paralyzed from the chest down – transforms his personal suffering into political activism, evolving as a powerful voice against the ongoing war. Featuring new music by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.

DARFUR NOW Ted Braun, USA
A call to action to help stop the genocide in Darfur, the struggles and achievements of six very different individuals – including actor Don Cheadle – bring to light the situation in Darfur and illustrate the need to get involved.

THE DICTATOR HUNTER Klaartje Quirijns, The Netherlands/USA
Revisiting the horrific torture, imprisonment and murder carried out in the 1980s under the regime of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré, THE DICTATOR HUNTER follows Human Rights Watch activist Reed Brody in his quest to bring Habré to justice.

DINNER WITH THE PRESIDENT: A NATION'S JOURNEY Sabiha Sumar and Sachithanandam Sathananthan, Pakistan
In October 1999, Pervez Musharraf assumed power in Pakistan through a bloodless military coup. Hearing his vision for Pakistan over dinner, filmmakers Sumar and Sathananthan ponder the irony of a President in army fatigues delivering democracy to the masses. A part of Why Democracy?.

ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD Werner Herzog, USA
In his first documentary since GRIZZLY MAN, Herzog, accompanied only by his cameraman, travels to Antarctica, gaining unrestricted access to the raw beauty and humanity of the ultimate Down Under.

GLASS: A PORTRAIT OF PHILIP IN TWELVE PARTS Scott Hicks, Australia
Filmmaker Scott Hicks (SHINE) documents an eventful year in the career and personal life of distinguished composer Philip Glass as he interacts with a number of friends and collaborators, including Chuck Close, Ravi Shankar and Woody Allen.

HOLLYWOOD CHINESE Arthur Dong, USA
Punctuated with clips from over 100 movies, HOLLYWOOD CHINESE offers a captivating revelation on the Chinese in American feature films, from the very first Chinese-American film produced in 1916 to Ang Lee's triumphant BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.

IRON LADIES OF LIBERIA Siatta Scott Johnson and Daniel Junge, USA
As the first freely elected female head of state in Africa, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appointed other extraordinary women to leadership positions in all areas of government. IRON LADIES OF LIBERIA asks the question, 'can Liberia's first female president bring sustainable democracy and peace to such a devastated country'? A part of Why Democracy?.

A JIHAD FOR LOVE Parvez Sharma, USA/UK/France/Germany/Australia
The first feature-length documentary to investigate the complex global intersections of Islam and homosexuality, Sharma's feature directorial debut brings to light the hidden lives of gay and lesbian Muslims with empowering stories from twelve countries.

MAN OF CINEMA: PIERRE RISSIENT Todd McCarthy, USA
Variety critic Todd McCarthy explores the legacy of Pierre Rissient, a key behind-the-scenes figure in Cannes for more than 40 years.

MY ENEMY'S ENEMY Kevin Macdonald, France/UK
From the director of THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND comes a documentary about the post-war activities of one-time Gestapo commander Klaus Barbie, infamously known as the “Butcher of Lyon.”

MY KID COULD PAINT THAT Amir Bar-Lev, USA
Chronicling the rise to fame of Marla Olmstead – a four-year-old painter whose work has taken in over $300,000 – filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev examines society's obsession with child prodigies while exploring the complex on-going debate over what constitutes art.

OBSCENE Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O'Connor, USA
Drawn from more than 60 years of home movies, media appearances and rare archival footage, OBSCENE tells the story of American publisher Barney Rosset, who fought battles in court to put out some of the most forbidden works of the explosive post-war decades, including Tropic of Cancer and Naked Lunch.

OPERATION FILMMAKER Nina Davenport, USA
When the dreams of a young Iraqi film student are crushed following the bombing of Baghdad's film school, actor Liev Schreiber invites him to intern on the production of EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED. But in a comedic turn of events, Schreiber's good intentions quickly backfire as the eager student proves to have intentions of his own.

PLEASE VOTE FOR ME Weijun Chen, China
In an experiment to determine how democracy might be received in China, third-graders hold an election to select a Class Monitor, competing against one other for the coveted position while being egged on by teachers and doting parents. A part of Why Democracy?.

SURFWISE Doug Pray, USA
Filmmaker Doug Pray tells the bizarre story of an eccentric family: 85-year-old legendary surfer Dr. Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, his wife Juliette, and their nine children – raised and home-schooled in a camper on a California beach.

TERROR'S ADVOCATE (L'AVOCAT DE LA TERREUR) Barbet Schroeder, France
Veteran director Barbet Schroeder explores the life, career and conscience of criminal lawyer Jacques Vergès, whose clients – including Klaus Barbie, Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein – are among the most infamous figures of the 20th century.

TRUMBO Peter Askin, USA
Told through spoken-word performances of some of its subject's extraordinary letters, TRUMBO presents a portrait of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who fought back after being blacklisted by HUAC. Featuring appearances by Donald Sutherland, Michael Douglas, Joan Allen and Liam Neeson.

VERY YOUNG GIRLS David Schisgall, USA An eye-opening survey of teenage prostitution in New York City, David Schisgall's film also tells the story of Rachel Lloyd, the remarkable woman who founded Girls Education & Mentoring Services (GEMS), dedicating her live to help ensure that young girls avoid making the same mistakes that she did.

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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