TIFF Adds Obomsawin, Chang, Zweig, Page and More with Canadian Line-up

Alanis Obomsawin’s 53rd doc, Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger, has its world premiere at TIFF 2019
Courtesy of the NFB

By Pat Mullen

Four new Canadian feature documentaries join the line-up for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The festival unveiled its 2019 Canadian programming today and the documentary front includes new films by Alanis Obomsawin (Our People Will Be Healed), Alan Zweig (There is a House Here), and Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze), while Ellen Page makes her doc debut her Gaycation co-host Ian Daniel with There’s Something in the Water. Obomsawin will world premiere her new—and 53rd!—film, Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger, in the Masters program. The Messenger closes out a significant seven-film chapter in Obomsawin’s body of work, beginning with 2012’s The People of Kattawapiskak River, which engages with the rights of Indigenous children within the greater conversation of reconciliation.

Zweig and Chang bring their films, both world premieres, to the TIFF Docs line-up, although both are masters in their own right. Zweig’s latest, Copper, is a portrait of the emotional experiences of police officers. Chang makes his TIFF debut with This is Not a Movie, an incendiary NFB co-production that probes the current state of journalism with a deeply humanising portrait of Robert Fisk. There’s Something in the Water probes questions of environmental racism, adding a timely story of social justice to the festival. The films join the previously announced opening night Robbie Robertson doc Once Were Brothers, directed by Daniel Roher, and Barry Avrich’s David Foster: Off the Record to round out a half-dozen feature Canadian documentaries at TIFF this year. The line-up also includes a feature doc-hybrid in Murmur, directed by Heather Young and featuring a number of non-professional Nova Scotians as themselves.

The feature docs are joined by a handful of shorts including Carol Nguyen’s personal film No Crying at the Dinner Table and Sandra Ignagni’s NFB doc Highway to Heaven: A Mosaic in One Mile, which studies the diversities of faiths along the No. 5 Road in Richmond, BC. Other short doc, or doc-ish, films in the TIFF roster include Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter’s animated hybrid Now is the Time, an NFB innovation that captures the journey of several generations of the Haida as they strive to re-raise carver Robert Davidson’s totem pole on its 50th anniversary. Theodore Ushev rounds out the NFB slate with his personal essay The Physics of Sorrow, which adapts a novel by Georgi Gospodinov, whose work was the basis for the filmmaker’s Oscar-nominated Blind Vaysha, and uses the unprecedented technique of encaustic wax portraiture, a style from antiquity.

Other Canadian films include the world premiere of Louise Archambault’s adaptation of the deeply moving novel And the Birds Rained Down, Albert Shin’s Clifton Hill, Jeff Barnaby’s zombie epic Blood Quantum, The Tesla World Light director Matthew Rankin’s debut feature The 20th Century, and Zacharius Kunuk’s One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk, which will screen as a special event.

The newly announced Canadian docs are as follows:


Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger
Dir. Alanis Obomsawin | World Premiere

In her latest film, celebrated Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin tells the story of Jordan River Anderson, and how as a result of his short life, thousands of Indigenous children today have health care equal to that enjoyed by the rest of Canadians. Because of Jordan’s Indian status, a dispute arose between the governments of Canada and Manitoba over who was responsible for his care, and Jordan did not receive the appropriate home-based services that would have allowed him to end his life in his own community. Jordan’s Principle was passed into law by the House of Commons, and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued a ruling guaranteeing access to care, yet many Indigenous patients still face a denial of services. It took sustained commitment and the issuance of several mandatory orders for justice to be done.


Dir. Alan Zweig | World Premiere

Award-winning documentarian Alan Zweig returns to the Festival with an honest, hard-hitting, and humane look at the careers of retired police officers, as described in their own words.

This is Not a Movie
Dir. Yung Chang | World Premiere

For more than 40 years, journalist Robert Fisk has reported on some of the most violent and divisive conflicts in the world. Yung Chang’s This Is Not a Movie captures Fisk in action — feet on the ground, notebook in hand, as he travels into landscapes devastated by war, ferreting out the facts and firing reports back home to reach an audience of millions. The process of translating raw experience into incisive and passionate dispatches requires the determination to see things first-hand and the tenacity to say what others won’t. In his relentless pursuit of the facts, Fisk has attracted his share of controversy. But in spite of the danger, he has continued to cover stories as they unfold, talking directly to the people involved. In an era of fake news, when journalists are dubbed “the enemies of the people,” Fisk’s resolve to document reality has become an obsessive war to speak the truth.

There’s Something in the Water
Dir. Ellen Page, Ian Daniel | World Premiere

Ellen Page brings attention to the injustices and injuries caused by environmental racism in her home province, in this urgent documentary on Indigenous and African Nova Scotian women fighting to protect their communities, their land, and their futures.


Dir. Heather Young | World Premiere

From award-winning filmmaker Heather Young, Murmur captures the quiet, contemplative story of Donna who, grappling with alcohol dependence and loneliness, turns to a growing number of pets to ease her pain. Starring a cast of Nova Scotian non-professional actors, many of whom are playing themselves in the film, Heather Young and producer Martha Cooley skillfully craft a documentary-feature narrative hybrid that captures an enduring story of aging and the human-animal connection.

Short Cuts

Highway to Heaven
Dir. Sandra Ignagni | World Premiere

A beautifully composed and evocative documentary on the 25 houses of worship that line a single road in Richmond, BC, Sandra Ignagni’s timely study captures the tensions around multiculturalism and cultural diversity in Canada.

No Crying at the Dinner Table
Dir. Carol Nguyen | World Premiere

Filmmaker Carol Nguyen interviews her own family to craft an emotionally complex and meticulously composed portrait of intergenerational trauma, grief, and secrets in this cathartic documentary about things left unsaid.

Now is the Time
Dir. Christopher Auchter | World Premiere

A 1969 documentary on the carving and raising of the first Haida totem pole in over a century becomes the springboard for a film that restores fullness and richness to the larger story of a nation’s resurgent identity.

This Ink Runs Deep
Dir. Asia Youngman | World Premiere

In this vivid and moving documentary by Asia Youngman, Indigenous artists throughout Canada strive to reclaim their cultures and identities through a reawakening of tattoo practices, both traditional and contemporary.

TIFF runs Sept. 5 – 15. Please visit TIFF.net for the complete line-up.