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From Missouri to Manhattan: True/False Goes New York

From Missouri to Manhattan: True/False Goes New York

As part of the IFC Center‘s series of special events, the True/False Film Festival will screen sneak previews of three recent fest favorites on August 21st and 22nd in New York City. The selections include Mike Akel‘s “Chalk“, Mats Bigert and Lars Bergstrom‘s “The Last Supper“, and Marc Isaacs‘ “Someday My Prince Will Come.” The True/False Festival, which took place this past February in Columbia, Missouri, has garnered a reputation for programming fresh and unusual films that blur the line between fact and fiction – all in just three short years.

The IFC Center event is just one aspect of the overall expansion of the festival’s reach. “We wanted to represent the films that make our fest what it is,” festival co-founder David Wilson told indieWIRE. “We knew that we wanted all the hallmarks of True/False – filmmakers present, lively Q&A discussions, fun and challenging films and good parties. Hopefully we’ll deliver on all fronts.”

“Chalk”, which will screen August 21 at 7pm, is an example of the freeform programming typical of the festival, as it’s not a doc at all. It does, however, draw from verite style documentaries, as the filmmakers shot with two handheld cameras – one on the teacher and one on the students. “We also used scripted improv to get a more natural feel from the non-actor students and teachers that we used in the film,” says director Mike Akel. Inspired by the notion that half of all teachers quit their jobs within the first three years, “Chalk” is at once hilarious and painfully realistic as it follows three rookie teachers and a reluctant administrator over the course of a year through the beleaguered public school system.

“We wanted our audiences to see and feel what we as teachers see and feel on a daily basis,” says Akel. “The rest of the film would be an outflow of our experiences as teachers, as to maybe why so many teachers are quitting. We didn’t want to show the cliche gang violence, bomb threats, teacher/student sex, or drug stories – but the daily grind of public high school from a teacher’s point of view… I hope that all non-teachers, parents, and kids walk away with a new respect for the profession of teaching.”

On August 22nd, the IFC Center will screen a double feature from the festival, beginning with “The Last Supper”. Described as a “doc-meets-installation-art-piece”, the visually stunning film looks at the tradition of the last meal for those about to be executed. This highly inventive work is rooted in real-life former death row chef Brian Price, the author of Meals to Die For, who has prepared more than 200 final meals while working in Texas. “The whole project started ten years ago,” says co-director Mats Bigert, “when we stumbled over a short notice in the paper stating that John Wayne Gacy Jr. just had been executed… followed by the long menu of what he choose for his last meal. We decided to investigate which part this seemingly ancient ritual played on death row today. Some years later, we had collected an enormous amount of worldwide info and historical anecdotes. No one had previously done anything on the topic, and to find a blind spot in contemporary culture on such an interesting subject was kind of weird – and we decided to do a film.”

The second feature to screen will be “Someday My Prince Will Come”, a fascinating documentary that explores young love through the voice of its 11-year-old subject Laura-Anne, who is on a quest to find her prince. Although experimental in nature, the doc didn’t necessarily start out that way. “The film is shot observationally as a traditional documentary,” says director Marc Isaacs, “but I decided quite late in the filmmaking process to write a narration to be voiced by the main protagonist, in order to provide the film with a clearer narrative. The narration is actually written in rhyming verse, and takes the whole film into the realm of the fairy tale – the princess waiting to be rescued by her prince.”

The seemingly innocent nature of the subject matter ignited a bit of a firestorm in England. “I personally don’t feel the film is controversial because everybody knows young children have feelings for one another,” says Isaacs. “It just isn’t something that the adult world takes seriously or can handle very well… The media were very quick to attack the film for showing this side of childhood. The reaction was very sensationalist. I mean they were judging these kids as something other and different from themselves when in fact the film is very universal. The film is set in a depressed working class town and there are specific themes that emerge relating to this context, but you know that this is how kids behave everywhere.”

New York isn’t the only city True/False is visiting, as the festival plans to hit Chicago in October, where they will host a screening of “The Refugee All Stars” at the Third Coast International Audio Festival in Evanston. “True/False was the first official film festival for ‘Chalk,'” says Akel, “and the Columbia gang have a special place in our rib cages. We had a great time meeting other extremely talented filmmakers from all over the world. Our two screenings sold out and our Q&A time with the audiences went great… I love that True/False is non-competitive and pro-celebration of not only great films, but the artists who made them.”

For more information on the IFC event, please visit their website. Next year’s True/False Film Festival will take place in downtown Columbia from March 1-4. To learn how to attend or to submit a film, check out the festival’s website. “We’ve had such tremendous support from the folks in mid-Missouri that we’re already figuring out ways to add to our capacity,” says Wilson. “We’re looking to once again offer up a collection of the best new and nontraditional docs around.”

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