Skip to main content

Oscar Peterson: Black + White.1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All rights reserved/TIFF

The Toronto International Film Festival has a history of bringing in high-profile musicians to add even more glitter to its annual red-carpet parade. Bruce Springsteen, for example, drew heavy attention while in town for 2019′s Western Stars and 2010′s The Promise: The Making Of Darkness On The Edge Of Town.

Things won’t be as loud this time around, though, in terms of big-name recording artists: no Rolling Stones, no Pearl Jam, no André 3000 and no U2, as in years past.

The year’s most talked-about music docs won’t be at TIFF. Ahmir (Questlove) Thompson’s Summer of Soul, about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, has already been released in theatres. Peter Jackson’s long-anticipated The Beatles: Get Back will not get a theatrical release as originally planned. Instead, it airs on Disney+ as a six-hour series from Nov. 25-27.

Still, music fans won’t go without. The TIFF documentary schedule includes a handful of films devoted to the stories of a Canadian pop superstar, a beloved sixties siren unsure of the best way to San Jose, a Montreal icon not named Leonard Cohen, a polarizing smooth saxophonist and a Canadian rock trio from the 1980s.

As with all TIFF films this year, the music docs will be screened at a mix of in-person indoor venues and on the festival’s digital platform, as well as at open-air presentations that might be suitable for live performances. Who knows, it might get loud after all.


For Jagged, the lens is on Ottawa-raised Alanis Morissette.1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All rights reserved/TIFF

Don’t expect mere hagiography from documentarian Alison Klayman, whose previous subjects include Trump-whisperer Steve Bannon (2019′s The Brink) and Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei (2012′s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry). For Jagged, the lens is on Ottawa-raised Alanis Morissette, a spectacularly candid songwriter and interviewee who traditionally pulls no punches when discussing her life as female superstar in the man’s world that is the music business.

Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over

Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over.1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All rights reserved/Courtesy of TIFF

Fondly remembered for her interpretations of Walk On By and the pre-GPS hit Do You Know the Way to San Jose, singer Dionne Warwick currently enjoys fresh attention for her sassy social-media presence. A cinematic profile by Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner promises to be lively, if the defiant title is any indication. Come for the yarn about rapper Snoop Dogg dropping by Warwick’s house for doughnuts at 7 a.m., and stay for the discussion on performing at a time of Jim Crow segregation in America.

Oscar Peterson: Black + White

Oscar Peterson: Black + White.1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All rights reserved/TIFF

In Barry Avrich’s bio-doc on Oscar Peterson, legendary producer Quincy Jones declares the late Canadian jazz piano virtuoso the “greatest,” while fellow jazz veteran Ramsey Lewis says Peterson “frightened the hell out of people, pianistically.” Archival footage, testimonials by everyone from Billy Joel to Herbie Hancock, and musical performances from Canadians Measha Brueggergosman, Jackie Richardson, Joe Sealy and others document and celebrate Peterson’s remarkable talent.

Listening to Kenny G

Listening to Kenny G.1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All rights reserved/Courtesy of TIFF

Kenny G, the maestro of mellow, is better known than Oscar Peterson. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Anything? Inventive documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (Our Nixon, Nuts! and Hail Satan?) uses the long career of the smooth-jazz saxophonist to examine the question of artistic taste and how it relates to personal identities and community. Side note for super fans: Kenny G is expected to attend the festival.

Triumph: Rock & Roll Machine

Triumph: Rock & Roll Machine.1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All rights reserved/TIFF

Rush was not the only hit-making rock trio from Canada in the 1970s and 80s. Directors Sam Dunn and Marc Ricciardelli look back on an era of big hair, high voices, squealing guitars and the Camaro-crowd arena-rock proficiency of the Ontario band behind Lay It On the Line, Hold On and Magic Power.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs Sept. 9 to 18. Visit for ticket information and film screening schedules.

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.