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11 music movies to see at TIFF 2016

Jesse Kinos-Goodin

"Ryan Gosling singing and dancing — does it get any better?" Toronto International Film Fest director Piers Handling asked, aptly summing up the buzz around this year’s La La Land, which will get its Canadian premiere at TIFF this year. But it's hardly the only musical offering at TIFF, which also includes docs on the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Justin Timberlake and more.

The festival kicks off Sept. 8, and with nearly 400 films spread out over 11 days, it’s a lot to take in, so we’ve compiled the best options for music fans. From Oscar bait to cult hits, Iggy Pop to John Coltrane, check out 10 music movies you need to see below.

La La Land
Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend
Directed by Damien Chazelle

There are so many reasons to be excited for this film. Firstly, we’ve always wanted a followup to the romantic potential between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone that was introduced in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Secondly, it’s directed by Damien Chazelle, the writer and director of Whiplash, easily one of the best movies about music released in recent years. Lastly, early reviews are indicating that La La Land — which follows a struggling jazz musician and an aspiring actor who meet and fall in love in Los Angeles — is a strong Oscar contender and serves to reinvigorate the musical genre.

The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé: A Trip Across Latin America
Starring the Rolling Stones
Directed by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts

Just when you thought the Rolling Stones have drained every last ounce of blood from the proverbial stone, they find one of the few major cities they’ve never played — Havana, Cuba — and stage one of the biggest concerts the country’s ever seen. It should be interesting to see how the veteran rockers (Ronnie Woods, at 69, is the youngest member) handle the South American climate as they travel from Santiago up the continent, capping it all off in Cuba’s storied capital. 

Gimme Danger
Starring Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton
Directed by Jim Jarmusch

If there is any one life that seems perfect for the documentary treatment, it’s none other than James Newell Osterberg, a.k.a. Iggy Pop, one of the most electric performers in rock ènè roll. Gimme Danger traces Pop’s origins with the Stooges in the late '60s and covers the wild ride of ups and downs that ensued. Each raw, half-naked moment is reflected on by Pop, who is candid and forthright about his self-destructive tendencies. To top it off, it was directed by none other than Jim Jarmusch, who’s only ever made one other documentary, Year of the Horse, which followed Neil Young and Crazy Horse on their 1996 tour.

Hidden Figures (live)
Starring Janelle Monáe, Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson
Directed by Theodore Melfi

Not a music movie per se, but this true story about three gifted African-American women who worked at NASA in the '50s and '60s on the mission to launch John Glenn into orbit happens to feature Janelle Monáe as well as music by Pharrell. TIFF will be showing exclusive footage of the film, followed by a Q&A with the cast and, most notably, a live concert by Pharrell on Festival Street on Sept. 10.

The Sixth Beatle

Directed by Tony Guma and John Rose

"My story is the last untold story of the Beatles," the subject of this new documentary declares, a bold claim considering how deep historians will mine until every last thread of Beatles' miscellany has been unearthed. Speaking of bold claims, as the title suggests, filmmakers Tony Guma and John Rose are suggesting that their subject, a concert promotor by the name of Sam Leach, deserves to be called the sixth Beatle. Much has been said of who is the fifth Beatle — the one person not named John, George, Paul or Ringo, but who was equally as quintessential to the Fab Four — be it manager Brian Epstein, producer George Martin or early member Stuart Sutcliffe, but in this case, the filmmakers argue that Leach's early efforts to get the Beatles' name out when they were still gigging in Liverpool deserves special recognition. As much a story about the English class system as it is about the Beatles' salad days (it also includes an interview with ousted drummer Pete Best), it's a must-see for any Beatles completist.  

The Terry Kath Experience
Starring Terry Kath, Danny Seraphine
Directed by Michelle Sinclair

The debut documentary from Michelle Sinclair looks at the life and untimely death of her father, Terry Kath, guitarist and co-founder of the band Chicago. In 1979, at the height of Chicago’s power, Kath shot himself dead in an accident, leaving his then two-year-old daughter with a lot of unanswered questions. This documentary was her way to put the piece of her family history back together. 

For the trailer, go to

King of the Dancehall
Starring Nick Cannon, Busta Rhymes, Whoopi Goldberg, Beenie Man
Directed by Nick Cannon

There’s no doubt that Jamaican dancehall is the sound of summer 2016, the pulsing beat behind chart-topping songs from acts such as Justin Bieber, Drake and Sia, to name a few. Nick Cannon directs this ode to the vibrant music scene in Kingston, Jamaica, in the framework of a love story and musical, with narration and a soundtrack that features the actual “king of the dancehall”: Beenie Man. 

Chasing Trane: the John Coltrane Documentary
Featuring commentary by Denzel Washington, Kamasi Washington, Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins, Common, Bill Clinton and more
Directed by John Scheinfeld

Seasoned music doc director John Scheinfeld dives into the life of one of the most singular musicians of the 20th century, from his upbringings in the Jim Crow South to his death at the age of 40, focusing on the ups (i.e. his time with Miles Davis) and downs (his battle with heroin addiction). It features an A-list cast of talking heads, from Coltrane contemporaries to the new school of jazz musicians inspired by him.

JT + the Tennessee Kids
Starring Justin Timberlake
Directed by Jonathan Demme

Justin Timberlake teams with director Jonathan Demme — a noted Neil Young fan (he’s directed three docs on Young) and the Academy Award winner behind Silence of the Lambs — to capture the closing notes of JT’s two-year 20/20 Experience tour. Demme’s cameras are rolling while the pop star knocks out hits like “SexyBack” and “Rock Your Body” under the Las Vegas lights.

Mali Blues
Starring Fatou
Directed by Lutz Gregor

Fatoumata Diawara, known as Fatou, is one of the biggest rising stars in world music. This doc follows Fatou as she prepares for her first concert in her home country of Mali, a place with a deeply rich music history that was threatened when Islamic fundamentalists banned music in 2012. A colourful, vivid look at Fatou's complicated history with her home, Mali Blues is both a triumph for Fatou and for Mali’s music traditions.

Nirvana the band the show: the movie
Directed by and starring Matt Johnson and Jay McCarrol

Toronto-shot web series Nirvana the Band the Show garnered a cult following for its off-kilter comedy about the lives of two wannabe musicians who have nothing going for them. They don’t have music, they don’t really rehearse, but they do have dreams of performing at their favourite Toronto club, the Rivoli. The web series was a hilarious blend of fiction and real-world participants, riffing on popular culture and millennial angst. The movie, executive-produced by Spike Jonez and funded by Vice media, promises to be much the same.

Follow Jesse Kinos-Goodin on Twitter: @JesseKG