TORONTO — Funny how the insane crowds at the Toronto International Film Festival never seem to show up for the 8:30 a.m. screenings. (An unfortunate side effect to watching a movie that early: You sit in the darkened theater, waiting for the movie to begin, and it can be a little tricky to keep the eyes open.) Anyway, a small but stalwart group of us gathered for an early screening of Alex Gibney’s documentary “The Armstrong Lie.” Gibney, a prolific and acclaimed documentarian (“Taxi to the Dark Side,” “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks” and many more), had been working on a film about cyclist Lance Armstrong’s 2009 “comeback,” when it suddenly became a different kind of film: a story about a lie, and the village it took to tell that lie, and the consequences when it was finally revealed. Gibney comments that he was one of many who found Armstrong, a cancer survivor and multiple winner of the Tour de France, inspiring and heroic — until the evidence that he was using banned performance-enhancing drugs became too hard to ignore. The film’s a little overlong (Gibney’s got a bit too much footage of the 20o9 Tour de France crammed in), but it’s a meticulous, thoughtful presentation of a story that should have lost its power to shock, but still does.
“People loved the beautiful lie,” says Gibney, pondering on how he and others were so taken in, “more than the ugly truth.”
“The Armstrong Lie” was acquired by Sony Classics a few months ago, and will be in theaters, I’m guessing, before the end of the year. But there’s plenty of dealmaking going on here at TIFF, with the biggest being the sale of “Can a Song Save Your Life” to the Weinstein Company for a reported $7 million. It’s John Carney’s follow-up to “Once,” and sounds like a similarly sweet musical tale, with Keira Knightley starring as a songwriter who comes to America with her singer boyfriend (Adam Levine). Also acquired in the last couple of days: Jason Bateman’s dark comedy “Bad Words,” about a grown-up who gets himself into a kids’ spelling bee, was picked up by Focus, and Millennium Entertainment acquired “Fading Gigolo,” a comedy from John Turturro in which Woody Allen plays a pimp. (!)
And with that, I’m off to one more interview (Daniel Radcliffe, all grown up and in three TIFF films this year), then to the airport. Which means I’m missing, by mere hours, “August: Osage County” — but of course a festival like this is always about the ones that got away. For me, these include “12 Years a Slave,” “Can a Song Save Your Life,” “Labor Day,” and so many more — but I’ll catch them on another screen, on another day.