Chorus of approval for impressive line-up of music-themed movies at TIFF

Eight music-themed biopics and documentaries will screen at Toronto film festival this week.

Actor Tom Hiddleston. Alberto E Rodriguez / Getty Images / AFP
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Music fans had plenty to enjoy at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, with biopics about country-music star Hank Williams and jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, as well as a new Keith Richards documentary screening on ­Sunday.

And there are more to come – in all, eight music-themed biopics and documentaries will screen at the event this week.

A ninth, featuring footage of Aretha Franklin’s 1972 concert in a Los Angeles church, was pulled at the last minute due to an ongoing legal fight between producers and the singer.

I Saw the Light stars Tom Hiddleston (best known for playing Loki in Marvel's Thor and Avengers movies) as singer Hank Williams, who died at the age of 29 after releasing 33 hit singles.

The film chronicles his life from his 1944 marriage to Audrey Williams, played by Elizabeth Olsen, to his death on New Year’s Day in 1953. It tells the story of a tormented artist who found inspiration in his own woes and revolutionised country music with his haunting voice and original songs, while refusing to hide his alcoholism and addiction to painkillers behind the wholesome facade of Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry stage and radio show.

“Hank was in some ways probably the first rock star. It’s hard to question that,” says director Marc Abraham.

Many of Williams's songs, including I Saw the Light and I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, are ­considered American standards and have been recorded by pop, rock and country artists. Hiddleston sang every note in the film himself.

Ethan Hawke (Dead Poets ­Society, Boyhood), meanwhile, gives one of his best-ever performances in a fictionalised version of Baker's life in Born to be Blue.

The film, from Canadian director Robert Budreau, imagines Baker starring in his own biopic, in an attempt to capture the nature of jazz improvisation.

In the early 1960s, while Baker was jailed on drug convictions in Italy, producer Dino de Laurentiis really did approach him to star in a movie as himself but it never materialised.

Other elements in the film, such as losing his teeth in a mugging are true – but the character of Jane – played by Carmen Ejogo (Selma) – who represents his love interest in the film, and the film within a film, is fictional.

All of this may confuse jazz purists but Budreau said he remained “true to the spirit of the character and times, rather than being dogged by facts that were often disputed by Baker himself”.

“For me, it’s not how Chet was, but how we’re imagining him to be,” says Hawke.

The other music-inspired films screening at the festival include The Idol, about Arab Idol winner Mohammad Assaf (see main ­story).

Janis: Little Girl Blue tells the story of late rock legend Janis Joplin, while two-time Academy Award-winner Barbara Kopple's Miss Sharon Jones! shines a light on the R&B queen.

Netflix cast Keith Richards in a film about himself, which is screening in a new festival programme dedicated to television.

"I'm not getting old, I'm evolving," the Rolling Stones guitarist says in Keith Richards: Under the Influence, which follows him on the road during the creation of his solo album Crosseyed Heart.

Its director, Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), also debuted another film, The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, this week. French-born Chinese cellist Yo-Yo Ma gave a live performance before the screening.

The Reflektor Tapes follows Canadian band Arcade Fire as they complete their chart-topping 2013 album Reflektor and go on tour.