Kurt Cobain About A Son | Lake of Fire

AJ Achnack | Tony Kaye

USA 2006, 96 min | USA 2006, 152 min.

Docs had a strong presence this year at Toronto, thanks to new initiatives designed to raise the voice of non-fiction at a festival typically celebrated -on the world stage at least-for its fiction offerings. Thom Powers, who took over as International Documentary Programmer this year from Sean Farnel who left for Hot Docs, explains the reasons for the changes: “Toronto is such a gigantic festival, full of the best international films and Hollywood’s Oscar hopefuls, that there’s always a risk of festival-goers being overwhelmed. Since docs don’t always have star power, they need something else to stand out.”

Powers and his colleagues implemented several new strategies to create a “mini-festival within a festival” to give docs and doc filmmakers more exposure. New documentary initiatives now in place at Toronto are Doc Blog, which gives filmmakers a chance to reach audiences directly (archived at http://blog.tiffg.ca/blog/); Doc Corner, for industry attendees, and Doc Talks, panels of filmmakers whose topics this year included “Covering War and Conflict” and “Celebrity in Documentary”, sponsored by HBO.

“The White Planet”, by Thierry Piantanida and Thierry Ragobert

Two documentaries premiered in Gala this year: “The White Planet”, by Thierry Piantanida and Thierry Ragabert, and “Dixie Chicks: Shut up and Sing”, Barbara Kopple’s new film about the Dixie Chicks. It’s been fourteen years since any documentary has played in Gala, a section reserved for the most hyped red-carpet offerings at the fest. Over forty docs were screened in total; a new policy initiated this year requires doc entries to have a running time of at least 65 minutes, a decision designed to keep theatrical documentaries in focus at the festival.

Dixie Chicks: Shut up and Sing, by Barbara Kopple

Kurt Cobain: About a Son

One of the highly anticipated docs at the fest was “Kurt Cobain: About a Son” by A. J. Schnack. And it lived up to the hype, but not for the reasons you might think that a story about a grunge music hero who liked to trash his equipment and hurl himself into the mush pit before dying of an overdose at age 27, would. For a movie about a rock star, the film is surprisingly quiet, in a good way. After learning about the life and struggles of Kurt Cobain (I admittedly didn’t know much about him), the film’s reflective, textured, and subtle tone makes perfect sense.

If you’re looking for Nirvana concert footage or grainy super-8 home movies of Kurt as a little boy blowing out candles on his birthday cake, don’t see this film. Instead see it if you are looking for, or open to, a new experience. It may surprise you, just as it did me.

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