Robbie Robertson picture credit: Don Dixon
Robbie Robertson picture credit: Don Dixon

TIFF: The Docs, Biopics & Musical Happenings

Robbie Robertson and the Band, David Foster and Bruce Springsteen are among the marquee subjects of documentaries premiering at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which kicked off yesterday (Sept. 5) and runs until the 15th, and Judy Garland and Helen Reddy get the biopic treatment.

Also fun, Mick Jagger has a significant role in The Burnt Orange Heresy, and The Weeknd has a cameo in Uncut Gems starring Adam Sandler. Plus, Helen Reddy’s granddaughter Lily Donat, and producer/songwriter Alex Hope performed yesterday (Sept. 5) on the Festival Street Stage.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, directed by Daniel Roher and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, kicked off TIFF last night with back to back screenings, before Robertson and executive producer Martin Scorsese did an in-person introduction to their classic concert film, The Last Waltz, which screened for free at TIFF headquarters.

David Foster: Off The Record, directed by fellow Canadian Barry Avrich, premieres on Monday (Sept. 9), after which the legendary producer will be feted with an award at the inaugural TIFF tribute gala, held at Fairmont Royal York.

Later next week, Bruce Springsteen will be in town for his intimate concert film, Western Stars, directed by Thom Zimmy at his farmhouse.

In the acting world, Renée Zellweger takes on the role of the late Judy Garland in Judy, “during the last year of her life, in Rupert Goold’s (True Story) adaptation of the stage play End of the Rainbow,” according to press notes. Universal Music is also releasing the soundtrack, sung by Zellweger, her debut solo album.  Australian actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey portrays Helen Reddy in the Unjoo Moon-directed I Am Woman, who wrote the enduring 1971 anthem for the women’s lib movement.

Another movement is the based-on-BBC-series Military Wives, directed by Peter Cattaneo, about “a group of women on the home front form a choir and quickly find themselves at the centre of a media sensation and global movement.”

Other films with music central to the plot: The Song of Names with Tim Roth and Clive Owen “about a man searching for his childhood best friend — a Polish violin prodigy orphaned in the Holocaust — who vanished decades before on the night of his first public performance,” and How to Build a Girl, starring Beanie Feldstein as a teenager who becomes a music critic, based on British author Caitlin Moran’s semiautobiographical novel.  Dolemite is my Name and Dirt Music are another two.  Find the  TIFF listings and synopsis at

Outside of music as the topic, you will find Jagger in The Burnt Orange Heresy, a thriller based on Charles Willeford's novel, and Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B in Hustlers based on a New York Magazine article about some strippers who drugged and fleeced their customers.

There’s also non-filmic music happenings during TIFF, including last night’s OVO Night @ RBC House, featuring a lengthy set by Majid Jordan, a panel at NKPR’s  IT House x Producers Ball called Get Into The Groove: Music & Film, with director Daniel Roher  actor/musician Noah Reid (Schitt’s Creek, Clifton Hill), radio host Alan Cross,  eTalk’s Liz Trinnear and singe/actor Tyler Shaw.

There is also all the activity on “Festival Street” (Sept 5-8) (King Street W. between Peter Street and University Ave.) including the Slaight Music Stage featuring free sets by Notif (last night), Sam Drysdale, Kayla Diamond, and Tomi Swick. Other performers include Long Branch, SixNations/Kahnawake band Attic Ramblers played yesterday and Andrée Levesque Sioui, accompanied by Acadian pianist Rachel Aucoin, do a set on Sunday.

At two invite-only events Drysdale and Ava Kay are playing at Norman Jewison’s annual Canadian Film Centre garden party on Sunday afternoon, and NKPR has Mia Martin and Kreesha Turner in attendance at their exclusive Artists For Peace & Justice fundraising gala Saturday night, at which Robbie Robertson is presenting an award and Arcade Fire’s Régine Chassagne is performing.

-- The complete listing of musical performances on Festival Street can be found here.

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