Over the past ten years, a documentary film festival in Columbia, Missouri has become one of the most anticipated and highly regarded stops on the festival circuit. The True/False Film Fest, whose tenth installment took place this past weekend, is one of the city’s biggest events. Though creating an event around documentary films doesn’t seem like the easiest task, the festival’s co-founders. Paul Sturtz and David Wilson, have worked with their staff to consistently create one of the world’s most exciting and thoughtful film festival experiences.
Columbia, which sits in between the state’s two largest cities, St. Louis and Kansas City, is home to several colleges and universities. The Missouri School of Journalism in the city is one of the world’s most highly regarded (and first) journalism schools. In addition to True/False, the city hosts the music festival Roots N Blues N Barbeque.
Walking down the streets of downtown Columbia, one is struck by how deeply the community cares about the fest. People are wearing winter hats with True/False labels stitched on them; local restaurants have the True/False logo on their entrances.
This year, in the week before the fest, dozens of volunteers gathered twice to clean up two snowstorms that made preparing venues and doing the production side of things a hassle. As Amy Schneider, the Director of the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau told Indiewire, “I am most amazed by the amount of volunteers they’re able to get to help them out. They put out a call after the big snowfall, and volunteers showed up with snow shovels. That’s a dedication to the cause.”
But what’s behind all the attention and excitement? What makes True/False so different? Here are Indiewire’s list of the eight ways True/False makes itself — and its city — stand out.
Concentrates on addressing the needs of the local community and the international filmmaking community.
Festival Co-Founder David Wilson told Indiewire, “We had a group of filmmakers that had an extraordinary experience last year. [‘How to Survive a Plague’] David France and [‘Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry’ director] Alison Klayman were here introducing movies. [‘Searching for Sugar Man’ director] Malik Bendjelloul took a trip here just to hang out after winning the Oscar. I love the idea that we can be a gathering place for great filmmakers to watch great work and to talk about it, and to be together as filmmakers.”
Gets the local filmmaking community involved.
Sturtz and Wilson, who are based in Columbia, both make films themselves. Sturtz, with Jarred Alterman, was one of the directors of the short film “Dear Valued Guests,” which played at the fest this year. “We Always Lie to Strangers,” a film Wilson made with AJ Schnack, will premiere at SXSW this month. They’ve screened films by local filmmakers like “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” in the past. But the festival also has an open call every year for two minute films to showcase in their live game show Gimme Truth! For that event, films must be about Missouri and must be local filmmakers. The audience and panel of filmmakers must guess whether the films are true or false.
“This year,” Wilson said, “three twelve year old girls won Gimme Truth. They were up against a Creative Director at Hallmark. One of these girls doesn’t have a television at home, but she’s now a filmmaker.”
Provides educational opportunities for local students.
This year, the fest had forty high school students doing a track of panels and film screenings. Local college students participated in events tied to the festival and in events programmed before the festival co-hosted by their own institutions.
Programs great films.
This one’s a no brainer, but True/False also stands out because it works with filmmakers who haven’t had U.S. or world premieres to do secret sneak preview screenings at the fest, making films that might need to have official premieres at a more high profile festival available to watch in Columbia. The festival is especially interested in films that sit on the border of fiction and non-fiction, with fiction films “No” and “Computer Chess” playing at the fest as well as a new retrospective series, curated this year by Eric Hynes, called Neither/Nor.
Realizes that good programming isn’t only about films.
All screenings at True/False are preceded by the musical stylings of buskers from all across the country. Ushio Shinohara, one of the artists featured in festival film “Cutie and the Boxer” had a public demonstration of his art. Critics, editors, and directors all took part in various panels, well attended especially by local students.
Gets local restaurants excited about what you’re doing.
The fest shows off Columbia’s excellent restaurants at all of its receptions, including one, Reality Bites, that’s explicitly a food showcase. And it’s not a bad thing that Schlafly beer is everywhere.
Hosts a parade.
Because why not.
Supports local institutions that are in line with its mission.
One of the festivals most charming venues, the Ragtag, is also a year-round venue for indies and documentary films. Wilson, who sits on the Ragtag’s board, told Indiewire, “The Ragtag, with Uprise Bakery and Ninth Street Video, is a true third space. Many different segments of our community get together, to buy records and videos, to watch movies, to hang out. It’s a hub. It’s something that a lot of Columbians are really proud of.”