The True/False Film Fest exists to champion the best new nonfiction filmmaking. Its goal is to promote art, dialogue and deepen community’s understanding of each other and the world at large. True/False do not select films primarily for their topic, nor does it advocate for or against the subject matter of our films. Rather, True/False hopes to present a program that, in totality, challenges viewers to think critically about both the content of the films and their own assumptions.
True/False is a project of Ragtag Programming for Film and Media Art, a 501(c)3 non-profit arts organization that also operates Ragtag Cinema, a 365-day arthouse theater. The mission of Ragtag Programming for Film and Media Art is to champion independent film to stimulate and enrich the culture of our community.
Antcipating the 2014 True/False Film Fest, we spoke with the events co-founder David Wilson about all things True/False. The 2014 True/False Film Fest takes place in Columbia, Missouri between Februaru 27-March 2, 2014.
Find Tickets for the 2014 True/False Film Festival – HERE
Can you describe the mission of the True/False Film Festival? How does the name True/False represent this mission?
True/False is devoted to being a champion of new and non-traditional non-fiction filmmaking. We want to support filmmakers in all the ways we can and at the same time put together the most exciting lineup of non-fiction films in the world. As you look at the pantheon of documentary film festivals, many of them have funny pun-heavy names, so we tried to stay away from that. We were talking about the True/False tests we used to take as kids and realized it was an appropriate name for the festival. It’s an ironic name as it addresses that none of the films are either true or false, yet all films remain somewhere in between. We wanted to create a media literate group of festival goers who are engaged in these ideas; thinking about what they buy and how they connect to the films.
What was it about the year 2003 that made you feel it was a good time to launch this event? What are some of the major landmarks in your history that signify your growth?
In 2003, we had just seen ‘Bowling for Columbine‘ do much better than people thought documentaries could do in terms of box office impact. Then we saw a spate of films coming off that success like ‘Winged Migration‘, ‘Capturing the Friedmans‘, and ‘Spellbound‘, which were 3 very different films who attracted theatrical audiences. They were asking to be seen in a theater, surrounded by people instead of alone, in front of a television.
We were running a cinema at the time and thought the last thing the world needed was another film festival, but this was a moment we thought we could do something around documentary. We thought we could do something that celebrated what we saw as a new wave in cinematic non-fiction. We happened to live in a town that has a great journalism school and thought that was a nice point of connection. From there we thought, maybe the world would get excited about a festival that really took documentary seriously.
You mention the strong journalism school, what other amenities does Columbia offer festival attendees even if not directly associated with any of the presented films?
We have a great, functional downtown. Columbia is a classic college town. It is not unique in terms of its geography or architecture, but we have a good layout. This was one of the first things we talked about. We new we had our newly launched cinema which, at the time, was a single screen storefront theater; we had a music club where we started our film series and still show movies; we had a great old movie palace in the Missouri Theater. Between those three venues we thought we had a really diverse group of venues within a couple of blocks of each other. That was as important to us as the films we would show. We already new we hated the idea of attending a festival only to jump on a bus to travel from one venue to another. We wanted it to be walkable and contained; we wanted to create a critical mass of people in a given area and make it feel like a festival.
What is the philosophy behind putting together the festival lineup? How has this carried over from year to year? Do you look for specific themes each year?
Right off the bat we try and set aside topic. We do not think what the films are about, at first. This comes much later in the process (if at all). We really focus on the craft. We want to find well-told stories, well designed characters, films that have a propulsive energy to carry you through them. As we age through the festival and our festival goers have become more savvy viewers, we have opened up some more experimental territories where we can celebrate the edges of documentary filmmaking. For a lot of our program, though, we want great stories. I could get into the little details of aspects we might be “allergic” too, like we are not big on voiceover; we do not like having our hand held or being told things rather than shown. Since we set topic aside, we never show a film because it is “worthy”. There are other places where topic is king and that is great but it is not for us. We want great movies and later we can talk about what they are actually about.
Specific to this years program, are there any specific events you are particularly excited to show audiences? Personally, I am looking forward to Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’, as well as ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’.
Both those films are high interest films. ‘Boyhood‘ has only been shown a handful of times so there is a lot of excitement around that. Part of the excitement is how something clearly marked as a fiction film has a place at a documentary festival, so I am looking forward to those discussions and debates.
One of the things we do not do is strive to be a premiere oriented festival. We strive to play movies wherever we find them. Take a film like ‘Big Men‘, which launched at Tribeca last year but we thought it did not get as much talk as is deserved. It is a wonderful film.
There is a film called ‘Ukraine is Not a Brothel‘, which has played around the world but not in the US so much. I think it is cool that we can take this fantastic film that is well made and introduce it to a new audience. Then there is a film like ‘Actress‘. Robert Greene is a known, up and coming talent in the documentary world but this film shows him taking new risks and pushing his craft.
Why did you decide to implement the “Pay the Artist” program? What can other events learn from this in regard to incentivizing attendance?
We see True/False as being a petri dish for festivals. We want to be a place that tries out new ideas and is not afraid to experiment. This is not only on the film side but also addressing the guts of what a festival can be and what we can hope for, as well as what is possible. There are a lot of festivals out there I am not a big fan of. They are cookie cutter festivals who are not particularly interested in taking risks on either side of the equation. Consequently, there are a lot out there that are taking risks and are very exciting. I think the PTA program is not a threat to other festivals, but rather an encouragement. It is a call to see how we can all support filmmakers, because that should be our primary job.
What is it about the concept of “Magic Realism” that makes it an appropriate theme for this years festival?
Each year we come up with an artistic theme that helps guide our poster art and program art. We were looking at the history of stage magic and how it parallels to the history of cinema itself. It is not entirely new territory as the film ‘Hugo‘ addressed it. They have a shared history. It feels like this has not been thought about as much with documentary. Documentary is engaged with some of those same things. It is engaged in doing a lot of work and making it look effortless. Anytime we can talk about the constructed nature of documentary, we think it is good for the form. This continues in a line of themes that are about how documentaries are made and celebrating the magic that comes out of the edit room in the construction of them.
Regarding the “Magic Realism” poster art, how did you come across Akiko Stehrenberger to design this years poster?
We had worked for a couple of years with Eric Buckham who has done some truly legendary posters for bigger films. This year we thought we would give him a break and have something more illustrated. He had mentioned he had an officemate in Akiko. We started looking at her poster work and it is extraordinary. She is an amazing illustrator. We thought it would feel fresh but was still a great way to still be connected to Erik. It was the best of both worlds.
Finally, why did you choose Amir bar-Lev as your True Vision honoree? Where do you see his place amongst the spectrum of documentary filmmakers?
I think Amir is a stealth master. He has 4 films that are all high concept. When he does this Amir is an incredibly soulful filmmaker. When he makes these films he finds new emotional depth; new ethical and moral questions and really implicates the audience in these stories. Working with high concept pieces, he brings a visual lyricism and soulfulness to filmmaking. When I started thinking about his work in that way I thought it was amazing. Walking into ‘Happy Valley’ at Sundance I thought I knew what I was getting into but walking out I was blown away by what I had experienced