Among the hundreds of films premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, some of the best documentaries of the year make their debuts. In the opening days of the 2012 edition of TIFF, Boise Weekly caught four compelling films, two of which examine heinous crimes, another that detects a family's mythology and a fourth that defies description ... but we'll try.
First, the best of the lot: The Central Park Five. Millions of Americans know Ken Burns' work from his award-winning series of docs on PBS, chronicling the Civil War, Jazz and Baseball. But his latest is making its debut on the big screen and it's a stunner: a two-hour film that races by like minutes.
Actress and director Sarah Polley is a Canadian treasure. The Oscar-nominated Polley has returned to the Toronto International Film Festival with Stories We Tell, which was kept under a shroud of secrecy until its screening on Friday. This time, Polley offers a beautiful documentary that slowly reveals the secrets buried deep within her own family. Polley's skill gently brushes away layers of mystery instead of peeling them back. The end result is a gem of a film; however, its subject is so nuanced, the film may not find an audience. But if filmgoers find Stories We Tell, they'll love it.
Unfortunately, West of Memphis, the latest consideration of the case of three teenagers, known as the West Memphis Three, imprisoned for the mutilation and murder of three young children, doesn't get a recommendation from this critic. Two previous HBO documentaries, Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost II, put the miscarriage of justice in a spotlight and this was a ripe opportunity to tie up some loose ends. Unfortunately, filmmakers have accented West of Memphis with an overly dramatic score and unnecessary sound effects, and as a result, the film feels like an overreach.
A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman can be recommended only if you love Monty Python. If you worship at the altar of Chapman and his fellow loonies, you'll probably love this film, which is an intellectual but morally bankrupt telling of the late Chapman's life. It's a 3-D, animated bit of self-importance, and if you're overdue for an LSD head trip, A Liar's Autobiography might suffice. Just like Monty Python, there is some brilliance, some incredulity and a lot of sensory overload.