Must-see documentaries showcased in Toronto

For the first time in its 32-year history, the Toronto International Film Festival screened a film that was simultaneously available for free streaming on the Internet. The seven-minute short film, “Shock Doctrine,” based on Naomi Klein’s bestselling book, is co-directed by Mexico’s acclaimed director Alfonso Cuarón. The powerful short is succinct and to the point in defining capitalism’s shock tactics. The book is still on bestseller lists. See the film free at naomiklein.org.

“Man From Plains” follows former President Jimmy Carter around the country as he confronts challenges to his claim that the Israeli government practices apartheid against Palestinians. Homespun interviews and personal stories bring a deeper understanding for a former president who’s gaining more respect after his term in office.

Klaus Barbie, known as the Butcher of Lyon, France, figures into two fascinating biographies. “My Enemy’s Enemy” covers his life since World War II and makes the point that Barbie’s existence as a Nazi didn’t end with the war. It’s well documented that Nazis were used by the U.S. to fight the emerging Soviet superpower. The chronicling of Barbie’s escape to Bolivia with U.S. assistance, and his ongoing ties with the CIA, reveal his hitherto unknown involvement in many historical events, including Che Guevara’s death.

Probably one of the most complex figures represented in all the films shown this year at Toronto is the enigmatic French-Vietnamese lawyer Jacques Verges. In “Terror’s Advocate,” we examine the seemingly contradictory actions of a revolutionary attorney who defended clients as far-ranging as Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Carlos the Jackal and Klaus Barbie. Always an anti-colonialist, his first major client was Djamila Bouhired, a leader of the Algerian resistance immortalized in the classic film “Battle of Algiers.” He went on to marry her upon her release from prison, a release won by his own defense.

Holding the firm position that all those accused, however reprehensible, deserve counsel has put the eloquent Verges on the defensive quite often.

“Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman” is a documentary from the acclaimed American-Chilean writer. A penetrating and emotional examination of the joyous and hopeful times of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government, this film allows the viewer to see — through the eyes of Dorfman — the tragic loss caused by the Sept. 11, 1973, military coup. This “other Sept. 11” tragedy is fading from history.

An intriguing piece of investigative reportage about the mysterious poisoning of a former KGB agent and reporter forms the basis of “Rebellion: The Alexander Litvinenko Case.” Director Andrei Nekrasov’s discoveries put the blame squarely on the corrupt Putin government in Russia and the Federal Security Service (FSB), and delivers a barrage of accusations against the current state apparatus.

Two more documentaries about Iraq are told from fresh perspectives. “Iraq: Heavy Metal in Baghdad” tells of the trials and tribulations of a rock band, probably the only one of its type left in Iraq. And they are determined to perform, somewhere, regardless of the extremely dangerous conditions that currently exist throughout the entire country. They manage to pull off one concert in a rundown hotel with a very small audience — the most determined heavy metal fans in the country.

The musicians, being quite astute observers of the U.S. occupation, show us the tragic decline of their community and the fears and dangers that plague their friends and families. Along with many other Iraqis, they are eventually forced out of their country in order to survive.

The same situation befalls Muthana Mohmed, a 25-year-old Baghdad filmmaker, in the film “Operation Filmmaker.” A fortunate recipient of an MTV grant, the young Iraqi is offered a dream job on a Prague film set. The good intentions of these Americans gradually become a nightmare for the aspiring young director, and the realities of his homeland, cultural barriers and competitive life in America eventually set in motion an irreversible disaster.

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