Directors

True/False Film Fest 2014: Magic/Realism

The histories of magic and cinema are both steeped in questions of authenticity and fantasy, and the transformation of the commonplace into the fantastic. With this year’s theme “Magic/Realism” we aim to highlight the affinities between prestidigitation and filmmaking, arts which utilize artifice on the way to discovering a new reality.

A small sample of what we have in store can be found in our 2014 commercial, itself a teaser for the short films you’ll be seeing before each of this year’s screenings. It was created by Jarred Alterman, director of Convento and co-director of Dear Valued Guests (T/F 2013). In it, magician Gary Oxenhandler proposes the idea misdirection, an important skill for magicians and filmmakers alike.

You may also have caught a glimpse of Steve Ferris, who you’ll be seeing much more of during the Fest.

“Magic/Realism” also inspired our 2014 poster, created by artist Akiko Stehrenberger under the direction of veteran T/F collaborator Erik Buckham. The poster quotes “The Marvelous Orange Tree” illusion invented by Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, the father of modern magic. You can view more of Akiko’s work at Hittsville beginning February 23rd.

final poster

The magic is almost here and we’re ready to share the complete True/False 2014 program. The artistic talent converging in our town for four crazy days is truly humbling. Check out the schedule and explore the complete lineup of features, shorts, musicians, artists and concerts. You can also browse through trailers for this year’s films and music videos from T/F 2014 performers.

We’ve also announced the 2014 True Vision Award Honoree, Amir Bar-Lev, who’ll be presenting his new film Happy Valley. And we’ve selected Kit Gruelle and Deanna Walters of Private Violence for the True Life Fund, our annual fundraiser for the subjects of a documentary. This film courageously and intelligently takes on the hidden epidemic of domestic violence.

Finally, we’ve announced the films in our second annual Neither/Nor series, an ongoing project to map the history of “chimeric” cinema thanks to the generous support of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This year’s program examines the self-reflexive Iranian cinema of the 1990s and will be presented by critic Godfrey Cheshire.

Let the transformation begin!

 

Posted February 11, 2014

Announcing the Pay the Artists! Program

We’re excited to announce our new Pay the Artists! initiative.

Pay the Artists! is part of a larger effort to create a sustainable ecosystem for nonfiction filmmakers, whose work rarely gets a wide theatrical run. Festivals, more and more, act as a de facto substitute for movie houses. Crowdfunding and foundation grants are often not enough to bring a film into the world.

The True/False PTA program exists as a partial remedy to this problem. In 2014, True/False will begin offering $450 to each feature filmmaker (or filmmaking team) attending the fest in addition to all travel, lodging and food expenses. We hope to grow this fund each year and, eventually, to be able to offer stipends of $1,000 per filmmaker.

This program is a tangible way to invest in filmmakers making great films over the long haul. With it, we aim to seed a movement of supportive institutions who invest in nonfiction filmmaking futures. We hope that, for more new filmmakers, nonfiction is not merely a launching pad to commercial or fiction work but a viable career path.

We see ourselves as a petri dish for trying out ideas, including how to best serve filmmakers. The PTA is an experiment, but also a crucial corrective to the lack of resources for independent filmmakers. While the amounts may seem token at first, we see the PTA as a growing, important commitment to do more care and feeding of the filmmakers we believe in. And if we are not all engaged in making independent filmmaking a sustainable enterprise, we will lose the very voices we exist to champion.

Funds for the PTA program are provided through generous three-year financial commitments from patrons who care deeply about the future of nonfiction filmmaking.

The founding members of the PTA are:

Holly Roberson & John Goldstein
Aggregate
J.A. & H.G Woodruff Jr. Charitable Trust
Pete Kingma & Thom Lambert
Jonathan Murray

Posted February 4, 2014

‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ is Coming to the Jubilee

On opening night, February 27th, the historic Missouri Theatre plays host to The Jubilee, our masquerade gala marking the beginning of a new True/False. This event is sponsored by our friends at LaBrunerie Financial and features six of Columbia’s best bartenders. After mingling with fellow fest-goers and partaking in plentiful libations, we’ll watch the festival’s first screening in this august setting. This year we feel we found a film perfect for the evening’s exuberant atmosphere.

jodorwsky

In 1975, cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky attempted to adapt the classic sci-fi novel Dune, along with a team of collaborators including Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali and Pink Floyd. Jodorowsky’s Dune uses phenomenal storyboards and concept sketches to tell the story of this unique project, which, despite its ultimate failure, serves as an inspiring example of uncompromising artistic ambition.

In the film’s trailer you can hear from Jodorowsky himself about the incredible goals that he set for himself in making Dune.

Frank Pavich, the director of Jodorowky’s Dune, will be on hand at both the Jubilee and other T/F screenings to share stories and answer your questions. We hope to see you there!

jodorwsky-dune

 

 

Posted February 3, 2014

The 2014 True Vision Award Goes to Amir Bar-Lev

We’re thrilled to announce that Amir Bar-Lev will receive this year’s True Vision Award in honor of his dedication to and advancement in the field of nonfiction filmmaking. This award, the only one at True/False, is given with the support of Timothy D. McGarity, MD. Bar-Lev is the eleventh recipient of the True Vision Award, which will be designed and cast in bronze by mid-Missouri sculptor Larry Young.

Amir

Bar-Lev is an American filmmaker, writer and producer, who has crafted countless innovative and award-winning documentaries. In Fighter, his 2000 directorial debut, he follows two Czech Holocaust survivors, Jan Weiner and Arnost Lustig, as they travel across Europe retracing Jan’s escape from the Nazis. Bar-Lev’s approach vividly captures the men’s unforgettable personalities and relationship.

fighter

In 2007′s My Kid Could Paint That, Bar-Lev explores the pressing questions raised by the art world’s embrace of a four-year-old abstract painter and her work. Offering no easy answers, Bar-Lev doesn’t shy away from probing his own relationship with his subjects and the process of documentary storytelling itself.

mykidcouldpaintthat

2010′s The Tillman Story takes on the death of Pat Tillman, the American football player who left a multi-million dollar contract to serve in the Army Rangers. The Tillman family’s quest to unearth the truth surrounding his death illuminates the way in which the military and media construct narratives, and the power of those narratives in shaping how we see the world.

the tillman story

This year True/False will show Bar-Lev’s new film Happy Valley. It tracks the destruction of the bucolic image of Penn State University and its surrounding community following the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal. Shot in the wake of this revelation, it takes an unflinching look at the collective guilt and identity loss experienced in a football-first culture.  Happy Valley highlights Bar-Lev’s rare gift of finding the emotional depth within a widely reported story.

happyvalley

Previous winners of the True Vision Award include Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel (2013), Victor Kossakovsky (2012), James Marsh (2011) and Laura Poitras (2010).

 

 

Posted January 30, 2014

‘Paraíso’ and a Chat with Director Nadav Kurtz

Brothers Sergio and Jaime Polanco and their cousin Cruz Guzman are immigrants from Mexico who work cleaning windows on Chicago’s tallest buildings. In Paraíso (T/F 2012) director Nadaz Kurtz pairs stunning images of the Polancos’ dangerous and fascinating work with their reflections on life’s meaning and what lies beyond. The result is a compelling look at something extraordinary hidden in plain sight.

Paraíso has received awards at Silverdocs, Tribeca, The Chicago International Film Festival, Cine Las Americas and The Seattle International Film Festival. Now this celebrated short film is available to watch online as part of the New York Times Op-Docs series.

I recently got a chance to talk with Nadav Kurtz via phone about his film and its inspiration.
-Dan Steffen

T/F: Could you tell me about the original inspiration for Paraiso?

NK: I was working as an editor in Chicago. One day I saw this guy pop up by my window, clean it and then disappear. That was the first time I thought about “Who are these guys?” and “What kind of a person does this job?”

T/F: How did you first meet the Polanco brothers?

NK: When I started working on the film, I went to different buildings all over Chicago and talked to people who did this work. When I met the Polanco brothers, I was just waiting at the bottom of these ropes where they were working, and they just came down and chatted. I was struck right away by how open they were. They were very friendly and basically invited me to their house that evening for a birthday party for one of their nieces. There was clearly something special about them.

T/F: What’s True/False about your film?

NK: To me the juxtaposition of the two words is about the influence that we have as filmmakers on the situations and people we make films about. Once we are in a situation we influence it. This is against the old-school idea that you could be in a situation and not influence it, that this would somehow be a “true” documentary.

I was interested in how making this doc would be illuminating for myself as well as for them. So I was very open with them about my own thoughts about their work. I asked them questions about topics that they didn’t bring up. Other people have come and done stories on them, from the Chicago Tribune and other news sources. And usually most people ask them things like “How much do you guys make?” and “Are you scared of the job?”, these pretty standard journalistic questions. I was interested in their spiritual beliefs and their relationship to the afterlife, their thoughts about the danger of their job and death. Those were things that I was curious about.

In the process of doing these interviews I think they started thinking about these things in a different way than when we first started. The falseness is that the process itself changed the reality, and even changed how their families viewed their work. Before their wives didn’t really know much about their work and didn’t really think about it. Their home lives and work lives were very separate.

T/F: This focus on the afterlife, is that something that occurred to you right away when you started making this film?

NK: Yeah, it’s something that I was personally interested in, especially around the time I was making the film. It was something that I was thinking about a lot. And then, of course, when you’re up filming on these high rises, it’s a different reality up there. You’re standing there and there’s no guard rail. You have the feeling . . . if a gust of wind came and knocked me over all the things that I think about, all the different problems and joys, can be instantaneously erased.

T/F: Can you tell me how you went about shooting the film, how you got all the amazing shots in the film?

NK: There’s a couple of really wonderful cinematographers Drew Wehde and Chris Markos. Those two did a lot of the filming with me.

Going in I had a plan of doing some of it off the cuff and some of it planned, in terms of lens choices and things like that. But the main thing was a lot of waiting. We got really lucky. I think there was one morning where we got a lot of the shots, particularly the part where they are talking about the afterlife and light is shining into the lens, bouncing off of the building. That was the fifth morning we tried to shoot there. They kept cancelling the work because the wind is too strong. So we kept coming back and eventually we got really lucky. They just happened to be on that side of the building when the angle of the sun was hitting the building in a particular way.

I’ve heard other doc people talk about this, there’s a phenomenon where you keep coming back over and over and over, and then in one hour you wind up getting 90% of what you’re going to use. There’s some weird synergy that happens. You have to put in that time and keep coming back or keep filming, then there are these weird moments where everything just kind of lines up.

T/F: It’s interesting, this sort of crazy dangerous work these guys are doing is sort of hidden in plain sight, we see this amazing work these guys are doing and don’t really even pay any attention to it . . .

NK: Yeah, it’s funny now I always get texts from friends with pictures of window washers working. It seems like once you tell people about the project or once they’ve seen it, they start to notice these people more.

Paraíso_WideExt01

Explore more streaming films from T/F past on our new video page.

Posted January 16, 2014

‘Aaron Burr, Part 2′ and a Chat with Director Dana O’Keefe

Aaron Burr was a major figure in the American revolution and early republic. But the legacy of our third vice president was ruined forever on July 11, 1804 when he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. In Aaron Burr, Part 2 (T/F 2012) Burr himself returns to finally clear the air about that fateful day and the events leading up to it. Check out the short below, as well as my chat with the filmmaker Dana O’Keefe, the man also responsible for Vladimir Putin in Deep Concentration (T/F 2013).

-Dan Steffen

T/F: How did you first become interested in making a film about Aaron Burr?

DO: I was initially fascinated by the idea that political figures resolved their differences through this highly ritualized form of combat. And then when it became clear that there were discrepancies in the accounts of the duel, that presented an opportunity to explore the idea that there isn’t really a stable version of history. That it depends on your perspective.

If there was a moment of clarity in conceiving the project, it was when we went to the actual site where the duel took place and realized that it was a parking lot. History, especially in New York, is all around us. It’s sort of hiding in plain sight. Using the actual locations where these things happened and embracing the fact that they looked modern forces the spectator to think about the relationship between past and present.

One thing I soon realized is that I knew absolutely nothing about what really happened during the revolutionary war. In this short period a time a relatively small group of people made a series of decisions which in turn determined what would happen over the next two hundred years.

T/F: What’s True/False about your film?

DO: I think the entire premise is “is there empirical, objective historical truth?” Aaron Burr was arguably as important a political figure as Alexander Hamilton. But he wrote himself out of history by killing another man, who in turn was enshrined as a national treasure.

To me it’s the epitome of how I interpret True/False, playing with these questions of documentary versus narrative. We tried to use a narrative filmmaking grammar to approach a documentary subject.

T/F: Could you tell me a little more about this narrative grammar?

DO: I think the idea was to figure out a way to present historical subject matter in a way that was both dynamic and relevant to a younger audience. The style is very music driven and utilizes highly composed shots, things that you don’t usually see in documentary. It’s very easy in shooting this sort of material to backslide into something that looks stagey or artificial.

T/F: Yeah, it almost feels like a film trailer in some ways . . .

DO:  Yeah, that’s funny, I guess it is somehow, it’s sort of like shorthand. I’ve never really worked extensively with dialogue in films, so a lot of what I do involves music and silent film storytelling techniques, occasionally title cards and things like that. So I try to convey as much as I can visually.

T/F: I thought Burr as a character was quite interesting. You made him arrogant and somewhat unlikeable, even though this is his chance to tell his story. How did you think about Burr as a character and a narrator?

DO: Gore Vidal wrote a historical novel called Burr which quickly eclipsed all of the other source material. The film is heavily indebted to that work in terms of presenting the jaundiced perspective of this guy who sort of wrote himself out of history and therefore has a very critical attitude about the cherished mythology of the period. That book really helped clarify how to portray his psychology.

T/F: Burr’s voice in the film has a weird, sort of otherworldly quality to it.

DO: Here’s a one way of thinking about it. We’re presented with this one version of history which we rarely question, right? And then Burr’s point of view about this incident is completely different, and he presents this version which contradicts the received wisdom. And he does so in a way that at first seems very objective and detached, almost robotic. But I think as the film builds you realize that his point of view is also delusional. Elements of megalomania sort of creep into this impartial narration. Hopefully, it highlights the impossibility of any stable interpretation of a historical event.

 

Posted December 5, 2013

‘Revolving Doors’ Panel

The T/F 2013 “Revolving Doors” panel brought together two filmmakers with work traversing the fuzzy boundary between fiction and documentary. Sarah Gavron spent a year in a remote Greenland community creating her doc Village at the End of the World (T/F 2013) and is currently developing Suffragette, a fictional film staring Carey Mulligan as an early feminist foot solider. Joshua Marston is responsible for the grounded, reality-infused films Maria Full of Grace and The Forgiveness of Blood. In conversation with moderator Eugene Hernandez, the pair tried to discover just what the two branches of cinema have to say to one another. How do fictional films capture the documentary “sense of discovery”? How does a documentary “honestly” utilize fictional elements? Do “based on a true story” movies cheat?

Our T/F 2013 panels were recorded by our partners at Columbia Access Television. If you’d like to take “Revolving Doors” with you as a podcast, you can download an mp3 here.

Posted November 12, 2013

‘These Birds Walk’ Now Playing in NYC

These Birds Walk throws us into the chaotic world of the Pakistan’s lost boys, observing the residents and employees of one of the Edhi Foundation’s shelters for homeless and runaway children. The film’s poetic grace mirrors the startling eloquence of the children themselves, as face their predicament and search for something to hope for.

These Birds Walk is the first film to play True/False two years in a row, in 2012 as a work-in-progrss and in 2013 as a completed film. Just yesterday it captured the coveted Black Pearl Award at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Now New Yorkers can see the film for the for themselves at Village East Cinema.

John Oursler at The Village Voice called These Birds Walk “a touching portrait of youthful resilience” while at The Dissolve Scott Tobias declared the film “essential viewing”. And on Indiewire, co-directors Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq offered compelling advice on how to make a documentary rise above the “social issues” cliches.

But perhaps the best endorsement for the film is this trailer, which captures These Birds Walk‘s masterful scoring and photography.

Posted November 1, 2013

Michel Brault 1928-2013

This week the film world lost the great Québécoise director Michel Brault, an important pioneer in the observational “direct cinema” movement that fundamentally transformed documentary film. Catherine Perreault at the National Film Board of Canada offers a detailed appreciation of his life and works, including three selections from his oeuvre available streaming as part of NFB’s extensive online archive.

You can also watch a short clip from a conversation between Brault and Sean Farnel at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. In it Brault discusses the technological limitations of documentary filmmaking in days gone by, and how they forced the director to think on his feet.

Posted September 27, 2013

‘I Am Breathing’ in Theaters Today

I am Breathing (T/F 2013) gracefully presents the final six months in the life of Neil Platt, a Scottish architect, husband and father enduring the indignities of Motor Neuron Disease. We watch Neil, confined to a chair by his illness, come to terms with his mortality and construct a legacy for his wife and infant son. The film is built around entries in Neil’s blog The Plattitude, a fount of down-to-earth wisdom capturing Neil’s humor, courage and inspiring resolve.

I Am Breathing opens today at the IFC Center in NYC with more cities soon to follow.

Co-director Emma Davie participated in our cozy get-together, Campfire Stories, where she shared an unforgettable story about “the tape in the shoe box under the editing suite”, a final message from Neil the she and co-director Morag McKinnon couldn’t bear to look at. Campfire Stories was filmed by our good friends at CAT TV.

 

Posted September 6, 2013
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