Food, music and dissent populate TIFF doc picks

Guitar hero Jimmy Page, fashion icon Valentino, protests and a huge Chinese restaurant are some of the topics explored at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

David Guggenheim – the Academy Award-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth –celebrates the electric guitar in It Might Get Loud by examining the creative process of guitar gurus Page (Led Zeppelin), Jack White (The White Stripes) and The Edge (U2). Another musical addition is Jeffrey Levy-Hinte’s Soul Power, which documents the concert that accompanied George Foreman and Muhammad Ali’s “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire in 1974, with performances by James Brown, B.B. King, Bill Withers, The Spinners and more.

Valentino: The Last Emperor is bound to attract the glamour hounds as it tells the story of the renowned designer and his entourage through unprecedented access via Vanity Fair special correspondent Matt Tyrnauer.

Weijun Chen, the director of last year’s crowd-pleaser Please Vote for Me, returns with The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World, a look at the West Lake Restaurant in Changsha, China, which is said to be the world’s largest with a staff of nearly 1000 and 5000 seats. Another food-focused doc is Food, Inc., Robert Kenner’s investigation of the changes big business has imposed on our diet, drawing from the reportage of Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma).

A Time to Stir is Paul Cronin’s four-hour work-in-progress about the 1968 student strike at Columbia University that ended in police violence and will include a live discussion with three active participants of the strike. Sean Penn presents and narrates Dana Nachman and Don Hardy’s Witch Hunt, about a Bakersfield district attorney who sent dozens of innocent working-class parents to prison on charges of sexual abuse.

Other highlights among the 26 documentaries announced are Dan Stone’s At the Edge of the World, about Canadian environmental activist Paul Watson’s battle with Japanese whaling vessels; Megan Doneman’s Yes Madam, Sir is narrated by Helen Mirren and portrays the life story of India’s first woman police officer; Chai Vasarhelyi’s Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love is about the prominent African musician; a twenty-something Tommy Lee Jones plays football in Kevin Rafferty’s Harvard Beats Yale 29-29; Matthew Kaufman’s American Swing chronicles the rise and fall of New York’s notorious public sex club Plato’s Retreat; and Agnès Varda looks back on her life and work in Les Plages d’Agnès.

Festival organizers previously announced the much-anticipated Religulous from Borat director Larry Charles, which follows humorist Bill Maher as he travels around the globe interviewing people about religion and God.

For more TIFF ’08 coverage, click here.

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