Unfortunately, my first day of True/False 2017 wasn’t as long as I’d have hoped.
In past years, I was a student at the University of Missouri, and the only boundaries between the delights of True/False and I were classes and homework. They could always be pushed to the side for my favorite weekend of the year. I distinctly remember putting aside important projects just to tune out of school for the weekend.
But alas, there I was, stuck at work at 6 p.m., getting messages and pictures from friends already celebrating the weekend of film. I wasn’t free until 7 Thursday night, so I only had time to catch 2 films on the first night of the 2017 True/False Film Festival.
Luckily, the two screenings I attended quickly pushed the work week far from my mind. I can either consider it providence or pure luck – likely the former given the faith aspect of Cinema Faith – but Thursday’s films gave me a look at two worlds I could only dream of experiencing.
Around the world
First, I was transported to the mountains of central Kurdistan, where the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fights against Daesh (ISIS). The setting plays a large role in Gulîstan, Land of Roses (Grade: B+), but only because it serves as an important back drop for the subject(s): the female commander of an all-female unit of PKK fighters. Gulîstan is quite the surprising film, but not in a traditional shock-and-awe sense. Instead, the promise of an all-female battalion trades violence and resistance for the simple beauties of a life tainted by the ever-present stink of war. It actually plays out quite a bit like Full Metal Jacket, as it follows the central figure from the training grounds to the front lines. Gulîstan never fully delivers on the promise of excitement… but in the end, war seems appropriate as a necessary MacGuffin rather than a key player. Western audiences will be left to grapple with the simple beauties that permeate life amongst a people who are often caricatured in popular culture and media. There is no religious or political extremism present in the film, though it certainly hints at the underlying influence extremist ideology may have. Instead, Gulîstan would rather bask in the humanity of Kurdish life. It’s all the more rewarding for director Zayne Akyol’s choices.
Moving north, I was treated to a classic True/False offering in Guido Hendrikx’s Stranger in Paradise (Grade: B). Perhaps that designation will ring hollow with those unfamiliar with the fest. All I will say is that it certainly plays with the idea of “non-fiction” film and how it changes our perception of art. However, that role of the film interested me far less than the characters introduced. Separated into 3 acts, not including a prologue and epilogue, Hendrikx’s film introduces audiences to European migrant hopefuls getting a stark picture of not only their chances to thrive, but also a look at how they’ll be treated in Europe. Stranger in Paradise is highly eloquent in its subject matter, and is strongest when it presents arguments for and against migration contrasting with the actual faces of migrants. There’s an element of confusion that hangs over the film; it’s hard to get over and discolors the film’s central themes at times. Yet, I can’t help but think it might grow on me as I dwell on it throughout the festival and this year. Regardless, there’s a lasting effect to Stranger in Paradise, if only because of the stories I heard.
That’s it for Day One. I’ll be picking up tomorrow morning with 5 films on the docket. If the first day is setting my expectations for the festival, I must confess they are higher than they’ve ever been.