Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, True/False kicks off in one week, running Thursday, February 28 through Sunday, March 3. Over four days, filmmakers, industry, and non-fiction fans descend on the college town of Columbia MO to experience what many past attendees, myself included, have referred to as one of their favorite festivals. Founders, organizers, and co-conspirators David Wilson and Paul Sturtz have carefully considered how to make True/False not just a festival, but an event, and not using the typical “film and an after-party” pattern – though there are films, and there are after-parties. Beyond those elements, however, is an infectious spirit of fun and excitement around the social activity of gathering a group of people together to celebrate non-fiction (or in some cases, non-fiction-adjacent) cinema – and True/False has managed to foster this kind of atmosphere, from the annual March March which sees festival staff, guests, and townsfolk parade up Columbia’s main street, to the festival’s support of music, including live performances before each screening, with buskers passing the hat for some old-fashioned crowdfunding.
After sitting out 2012’s edition, I’m excited to be returning this year, and look forward to catch those films in the lineup that I haven’t seen yet. Eschewing the premiere frenzy that too many festivals suffer, Wilson, Sturtz, and their team annually offer their audience an early look at a very selective group of films that they’ve scouted at Sundance and at a number of key Fall festivals, including Toronto, CPH:DOX, and IDFA, as well as others that may not have had high profile berths yet. In addition, True/False presents color-coded “Secret Screenings” about which attendees, including press, are sworn to secrecy – the six such selections this year will be making their official premieres at other upcoming festivals like SXSW and Tribeca. While I won’t be able to write about them out of T/F, I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Green and Gold.
Of the films I’ve viewed elsewhere, of course I recommend attendees check out the dozen or so titles culled from Sundance, from CUTIE AND THE BOXER to THE MOO MAN, and AFTER TILLER to WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL?. It will be curious to see what audiences make of the two fiction films included in the line-up – COMPUTER CHESS and NO – for certain documentary-like aesthetic techniques they employ. Columbia will also get a chance to see the provocative THE ACT OF KILLING and acclaimed STORIES WE TELL, both from Toronto, and IDFA’s affecting I AM BREATHING, among others.
There are quite a number of films that I haven’t seen yet that I’m eager to watch. Curiously, nearly all of them seem to be focused in a significant way about constructing a sense of place, as signaled by their titles. This is perhaps most explicit in the similarly named THE EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD, Daniel Dencik’s chronicle of an Arctic voyage, and VILLAGE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, Sarah Gavron’s portrait of a Greenland community. Ran Tal’s THE GARDEN OF EDEN (pictured) presents an Israeli National Park over multiple seasons, while Cristian Soto and Catalina Vergara’s THE LAST STATION profiles a Chilean nursing home and a number of its residents. Andy Wolff’s THE CAPTAIN AND HIS PIRATE profiles its two subjects as well as their environments – a Somali pirate camp and a German psychiatric institution, and Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq’s THESE BIRDS WALK uses a young boy’s experiences to present a view into a Pakistani orphanage. Nick Bentgen’s promising NORTHERN LIGHT explores Michigan’s Upper Peninsula through the community’s snowmobile race, while Specer McCall’s THE INSTITUTE presents an intriguing mystery involving the secret life of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Rounding out the program are three retrospective screenings: Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash’s 2009 SWEETGRASS, an accompaniment to Castaing-Taylor’s remarkable new film LEVIATHAN (with Verena Paravel), also screening here; Peter Whitehead’s masterful 1969 THE FALL; and Jim McBride’s prescient 1967 faux documentary, DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY.