By Brian Brooks | Indiewire March 1, 2009 at 4:19AM
With a guest list that ranging from industry insiders to a who's who of documentary filmmakers, the True/False Film Festival has an enviable event for a relatively "small" festival in the Midwest. Though "small" is relative, with the size of the fest's enthusiastic audiences turning out for a cross section of documentaries including Anders Ostegaard's award-winning "Burma VJ" (IDFA, Sundance), Kim Longinotto's prize-winning "Rough Aunties" (Sundance, IDFA), Joe Berlinger's "Crude" (Sundance), Fredrik von Krusenstjerna's "Necrobusiness," Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher's "October Country," Kimberly Reed's "Prodigal Son" and not to mention a bevy of "secret screenings" among the curated fest's 40 or so feature selections.
And having a good time is also a fundamental element to True/False. Once again this year, the festival took over Columbia, MO for a bit of good times with its "March march," essentially a parade down the center of town with participants wearing alien costumes, pushing a giant size camera float, a Snow White being driven in the carriage of a bicycle, placards of Big Macs - basically anything random and kooky. Le freak c'est chic indeed...
"I'd heard good things from people about this festival - it's what you want to do at Sundance but can't," said "Afghan Star" director Havana Marking yesterday at T/F's "Reality Bites" event (basically food and drink from local eateries for invited guests). "I've had many creative discussions [and] you don't feel the pressure of a competition event. Even in the [March march], I met a great friend."
Marking's doc, which premiered at IDFA in November followed by a win in the world doc competition at Sundance, is a heartwarming look at the Afghan version of "Pop Idol," or "American Idol" here in the U.S. The film also deftly captures the cultural intricacies of a society still reeling from the strict conservativism of Taliban rule.
"I don't think there can be more of a contrast to being in L.A. at the Oscars than attending this [event], though both are wonderful," director Megan Mylan told iW. Her doc short, "Smile Pinki" won the Oscar for best documentary short at last weekend's Academy Awards. "The audiences are great and they had a real connection to the film. IDFA is my other favorite festival, but this is so great. No pressure because it's not a market, and I love the programming."
Mylan seemed a bit surprised when looking back at the genesis of "Pinki" and its road to an Oscar win. "I went into it with the idea of 'we'll have to see how it goes as a documentary," Mylan said about the film, which focuses on an Indian girl with a cleft lip who receives a second chance after a social worker puts her family in touch with an organization that provides surgeries to the desparately poor. "The funding came from the organization [that the film spotlights], but I had to have total control. I decided I'd show them the final project [after I finished] and if they didn't like it, then I'd make them what they wanted, but then we wouldn't put it out there in the world in the same way. I went to journalism school and it was important to me that I had total independence."
Nervous laughter radiated through the screening Friday evening at von Krusenstjerna's "Necrobusiness." The doc focuses on the very bizarre case of murder and corruption surrounding a seemingly benevolent undertaker in Lodz, Poland. With heavy government subsidies of funerals, undertakers in Lodz were trying to capture ever more market share of the local funeral business. Some also allegedly greased the palms of underpaid ambulance drivers by killing heart attack, stroke or other victims requiring their services. "By paying ambulance drivers to get the information where the unfortunate relatives live, they went there with contracts to get the relatives to sign over the burial funds to the undertakers. The idea was that while the relatives was still struck with grief and sorrow, they wouldn't want to read through a thick contract and just sign it instead," according to an official description.
"Go ahead and laugh," said von Krusenstjerna when introducing his film. "This case was so bizaare and twisted we couldn't help but laugh ourselves. There wouldn't have been any other way to get through making this film without laughing."