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Jefferson Root Written by Jefferson Root
Mar. 3, 2010 | 12:02 PM

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Greetings from CoMo!

Greetings from CoMo! Film Radar visits the 2010 True/False Film Festival

          Columbia, Missouri (CoMo to the locals), is not an easy town to get to from Los Angeles.  While the city does boast a regional airport, it’s generally not practical to fly into unless you’ve got business in Memphis.  So your choices are either Kansas City or St. Louis, followed by a rental car, or in my case, the MO-X shuttle.  MO-X runs shuttles from both airports to Columbia, which is about two hours away from both cities.  Either way, whether you fly into the Columbia airport or one of the major hubs, getting there from LA is an all day affair.  So why should you make the trip?  Because the True/False Documentary film festival is there, and it may be the best film festival you’ve never heard of. 

Held this year from February 25-28th, True/False has many things to recommend it. First and foremost are the films themselves.  Festival founders David Wilson and Paul Sturtz picked 40 docs this year out of over 700 submissions received by the festival.  Many of the films are fresh from award winning premieres at Sundance, Toronto, and other major festivals. Nearly every film is accompanied by its director; and those who couldn’t make it due to weather or other conflicts often appeared via phone or ichat.

            The festival continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  In a town of around 100,000, over 25,000 tickets were sold this year, but since most people see more than one film, organizers estimate that attendance hovered around the 9 or 10,000 mark. The growing attendance reflects programming that consistently showcases filmmakers at the top of their game.  None of the films are announced as premieres, which helps True/False to remain fiercely democratic.  Tickets and passes are sold in advance, but their unique “Q” system insures that patrons without tickets can show up early, get a number, and have a great chance of getting in to any given screening. I got tickets via the Q for several films, and wasn’t shut out of anything.

The festival organizers are as serious about their festival as many of the films that screen there, but people who are skeptical of documentaries should be aware that True/False is also serious fun.  There are parties every night, and the festival’s films are all preceded by live music sets by an eclectic array of “buskers”, many of whom fly into Columbia just for the occasion.  This year’s group included a singer/songwriter from New York, a bluegrass trio from Portland, Maine, and a rollicking brass band from New Orleans.  The March March Parade gave visitors and locals alike the chance to walk through downtown streets at the start of True/False weekend.  Rumors that this writer was convinced to don a gorilla suit in the parade could neither be confirmed nor denied at press time.

Ultimately, it’s all about the movies.  I managed to take in a dozen films over the course of four days, and there were probably a dozen more that I wanted to see but couldn’t .  Sundance prize winners THE RED CHAPEL and RESTREPO were both transformative experiences, while SMASH HIS CAMERA, AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE, and THE INVENTION OF DR. NAKAMATS offered up affectionate portraits of larger than life subjects.  Nearly every screening I attended was packed, and the enthusiastic audiences kept everything buzzing.  An extended harangue by one audience member during a film’s Q & A resulted in calls for the tech crew to cut off the questioner’s mike (which they did), and another audience member was confronted with shouts of “Turn it Off!” by his fellow patron after talking on his cell phone during a filmmaker’s introduction.

Hearing the local residents gleefully gossiping about these and other weekend highlights is just one example of how True/False makes the town come alive. True/False is powered by a staff of over 600 volunteers, and the films are screened at historic local venues such as The Blue Note and the Missouri Theatre.  While both of these large venues are beautiful, it’s the Ragtag Cinema that best exemplifies the spirit of True/False.  Housed in a warehouse built in 1935 and formerly used as a Coca-Cola Bottling plant, Ragtag now features two screens, and a seating area where patrons can enjoy a full bar and the delicious fare of local favorite Uprise Bakery.  Ragtag functions beautifully as the festival’s bustling hub, as people can meet to discuss films, or just to grab a cup of soup or a pint between screenings.

          The enthusiasm is infectious, and it seemed to extend to the visiting filmmakers.  By the last night of the festival, you couldn’t spill a beer in Columbia’s Broadway Brewery without it landing on a visiting True/False director.  Everyone seemed in the best of moods, as the 7th edition of the festival drew to a close.

The MO-X ride back to Lambert airport in St. Louis on Monday Morning offered up one last taste of the True/False experience.  One visiting director from the UK was collecting the autographs of others on the official 2010 True/False poster, and I spent most of the ride chatting with one of the owners of the Ragtag space who was on her way back to New York.  When the shuttle reached the airport in St. Louis, I grabbed my luggage and let one of the directors know how much I enjoyed his film.  While some of the films screened at this year’s festival will eventually make their way to LA, the reality is that many more will not..  If you love documentary film, and a genuine festival atmosphere, True/False is well worth the trip.

True False Fest 2010 in a nutshell, as captured by Columbia production company Boxcar Films:

True/False 2010 Closing Night Video from Boxcar Films on Vimeo.