Only once a year do I find it acceptable to be running full-speed through the back alleys of Columbia, Mo., a heavy backpack strapped on my shoulders and a floppy slice of pizza slinging grease all over my shirt as I attempt to corale it into my mouth.
That’s right: it’s True/False season.
I’m a long-time attender of the non-fiction film festival in my home state of Missouri and adopted home city of Columbia. And ever since my time at the University of Missouri-Columbia, it’s been unmistakable to recognize the way the city brims with life during the often cold February/March weekend. It’s undoubtedly the biggest event that happens year-round here, and I’ve yet to attend a T/F where things were scaled back from years prior; each year gets bigger and weirder.
As is protocol for growing festivals, the film lineup seems to get better each year as well. True/False has a long tradition of screening Academy Award nominees and winners, from Undefeated to Boyhood. It’s also become a home to a lot of gems from big time doc-makers. Oscar-winner Morgan Neville – who’s back with Will You Be My Neighbor? this year – has screened his last 3 films at True/False, and Joshua Oppenheimer showed up with his crippling duo of The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence in recent years. True/False has a glowing national reputation, and films that screen there are all looking to get recognized on a large scale. Many do; last year’s Casting JonBenet and Strong Island both made their way to Netflix later in the year.
So how is this year’s lineup shaking out? If it’s any indication, I had a really hard time picking out my schedule. As I do every year, I ended up scrapping a few drafts before landing on my final lineup. I’ve got 16 films on the docket, but I had to leave a lot I wanted to see by the wayside.
Unlike past years, the theme of True/False 2018 seems to be a visual one, with the traditional themes of True/False – reality, truth-seeking, life and history restructured through visual experimentation – taking the forefront. Like I said, I’ve got a lot of films on this year’s schedule, and I’m looking forward to all of them. However, as I get ready to cover this year’s festival here at Cinema Faith, I’m singling out these 5 films as those I’m really looking forward to seeing.
dir. Bart Layton
True/False doesn’t venture into “fiction” filmmaking very often, but will do so when the themes deal with truth, reality, and our perception of them – for example, Boyhood screened in 2015. American Animals looks to be in the same vein, a heist film starring Evan Peters of American Horror Story, Barry Keoghan from The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Blake Jenner of Everybody Wants Some!! I’m trying to go into this year’s films knowing as little as possible, so while I’m sure there will be a very True/Falsian slant, I’ve no idea what it will be. However, I’m guessing there could be some themes surrounding the way we construct reality to soothe our insecurities. With good reviews out of Sundance, I’ll be disappointed if this isn’t a highlight of my weekend.
dir. Robert Greene
Robert Greene, Columbia, Mo., native, has cut his teeth on unique non-fiction offerings that fit perfectly into the True/False ether, e.g. The Actress and Kate Plays Christine. He’s back this year with Bisbee ‘17, another exercise in historical non-fiction carried out by both actors and real-life characters in a small Arizona town. Greene’s movies have received polarizing reactions at past T/F festivals, but he had nearly perfected his craft in Kate Plays Christine, and I’m curious to see how his style plays to a less personal story with wider-reaching themes than audience consumption and artistic responsibility.
Hale County, This Morning, This Evening
dir. RaMell Ross
It’s always a pleasure to see a new director at True/False breaks into the film world, and the buzz around RaMell Ross’s debut feature suggests this could be a film to watch as the year goes on. Hale County played at Sundance and True/False is billing it as, “recorded with intimacy while preserving the universal mystery of another human being’s life.” Much like last year’s standout True Vision film Quest, it’s shot over a number of years, documenting the lives of two young black boys in Alabama. The way the program talks about this film suggests it’ll be a little different than traditional documentaries, maybe with less personal access than audiences are used to. I wonder if this format will lend itself to a more lifelike experience, possibly more akin to traditional dramatic fare than typical Q&A docs.
Our New President
dir. Maxim Pozdorovkin
True/False has never been afraid to get political, and anyone who follows the festival coordinators could easily guess how they feel about the state of American government. Our New President is certain to draw crowds based on its name alone, but it’s also promised to be a look at the use of propaganda in our modern world and how it influences the way we see policies and figures in the political arena. It’s a tantalizing premise, but I’m hoping to see less of a political hit piece and more of look at our consumption habits and the way they help construct – and deconstruct – the worldviews we share.
dir. Sandi Tan
We’re reaching a zenith of woman power (or lack thereof) in the dialogue surrounding the movie industry. True/False, however, has never been short on female filmmakers. Shirkers might be my most anticipated film of the bunch as it looks at one woman’s quest to find a film she shot in 1990’s Indonesia before her mentor apparently escaped with the footage. Decades later, the prints are recovered and director Sandi Tan goes on a journey into her own past as an artist and person. There’s a lot that’ll be sure to unpack here: the growth of an artist, her move across continents, and rehashed trauma. I’m excited to see how Tan creates and recreates such a personal work, and I can see several avenues that could make this possibly one of my favorite films by the end of the year.
2017’s festival lineup will be a high bar to clear. At least two films ended up on my year-end Top 10 list (Casting JonBenet and Whose Streets?) and two features that screened are up for Academy Awards (Abacus: Small Enough to Jail and Strong Island.)
But what really makes a great festival is not necessarily the strength of its best films, but the consistency of its undercard. I really enjoyed under-the-radar films like Quest, Lindy Lou, Juror No. 2 and Gulistan, Land of Roses, and I’m hoping my schedule will be full of compelling features I can chew on throughout the weekend. True/False has rarely disappointed in that arena, so I once again have high hopes.
I’m looking forward to another weekend of participating in an event that gives so much life to a city I love and the artistic medium I adore. I’ll gladly do it as long as I can, even if it means I have to look like a mess, running down the street, pizza in hand and on shirt.