A Peek Inside the Thunderdome

Posted February 29, 2012

Somewhere on Business Loop 70, in the bowels of an autoparts outlet, creative minds and clever hands have been hard at work, building the elements that make True/False more than a collection of world-class nonfiction film. The True/False production team HQ is a bunker; its aesthetic is an amalgam of Santa’s Workshop, Mad Max’s Thunderdome, and a kid’s clubhouse. This is where the magic happens: the culmination of months of brainstorming, hammering, painting, and a number of serious ping-pong sessions. Posters and memorabilia are plastered on the walls, and the concrete floor space is occupied by a number of lovingly crafted sculptural works. Over the next few days, the pieces will find new homes at the various True/False venues, transforming ordinary spaces into extraordinary dreamscapes.

The conception and layout of each venue has been carefully planned, and set-up is a meticulously scheduled, highly strategic affair, designed to create a total experience for festivalgoers. Here are a few highlights (there are many more!):

For festival veterans, there are new pieces to see, as well as much-loved works recycled from years past. At the Blue Note, be sure to take in your surroundings, especially in the upward direction, where several of St. Louis artist Bob Hartzell’s sculptural paintings will be suspended over light fixtures. Barb the Buffalo returns to the Globe Theatre, with a fresh new look, and she is accompanied by some new pieces (be sure to check out the stanchions—those velvet ropes that keep people in line. They will knock your socks off).

The Picturehouse, located in the Missouri United Methodist Church, is a new venue this year. To transform the multipurpose room into a theater, the production team obtained a half-mile of black draping, which will be hung against the walls of the twenty-seven-foot-high ceiling. Two smaller screens in the theater will feature video portraits of Columbians taken by local photographers and videographers. The installation will run a half hour before each film—a good incentive to arrive early.

The beloved Trash Tree, by artist Greg Orloff, will be at Jesse Hall this year, and Orloff will have a new piece at the Missouri Theatre. The production crew refers to it as “the giant film reel.” It is an imposing, hefty piece—a bit like a giant Cyclops with gorgeous lights and details.

Sitting in the middle of the production bunker is another piece—an interactive sculpture—which will be installed in the Missouri Theatre. Details are hush-hush, but it looks like a mad scientist’s dream, a wonderfully Seussian metal machine tricked out with all manner of lights, gauges, and switches. I have been expressly forbidden from saying more.

The production and art at True/False are labors of love, brought to you by a group of fiercely talented and creative people. The docs you see, however great, are only part of the experience. This weekend, peel your eyes away from the screen for a bit, and take in your surroundings.

—Caitlin Oliver

Photos by Scott Pham. See more behind-the-scenes photos of the venue-design team at work in Rebecca Allen’s excellent photo essay on the Como Collective.