Directors

Suspending Disbelief with Daniel Vernon of ‘Miraculous Tales’

In Miraculous Tales we meet Mickey McGuigan, a charming 73-year-old farmer turned writer. Mickey takes us on a tour of his homeland, rural Northern Ireland, explaining magical cures for both livestock and people that remain an integral part of the culture. Along the way we meet numerous practitioners of the miraculous arts, including John Purcell, a charismatic evangelical preacher and faith healer.

Miraculous Tales played at True/False 2014 and will be screening beginning today at Hot Docs in Toronto, Canada. I recently got the chance to chat online with director Daniel Vernon about his strange and wonderful film.

-Dan Steffen

T/F: For starters, could you tell me about how this project began? Someone told me it was originally a movie about farming?

DV: I was commissioned to make a film about farming in Northern Ireland for the BBC. It was a pretty wide brief so I know I had to find something or someone to focus on.

My first concern, as always, was casting. Find that character who leaps off the screen, someone the audience, and myself, will want to go on an adventure with. To make it even more challenging . . . make sure that person is a farmer so it fits the brief! This wasn’t the easiest thing to do. It never is. For over three months we scoured the Northern Irish border trying to find the ‘one’.

One day I was drinking tea with yet another farmer I’d met and was about to say my goodbyes. Then the phone rang. The farmer listened down the line with a serious frown and shouted for his wife. She shot out of the house like lightening and ran down the lane out of sight. “What’s going on?” I asked. “She’s off to stop a bleed” he said.

The call had come from a local farmer whose cow was bleeding to death. He was looking for someone with a “cure” to stop the bleeding. It was the first I’d heard of these cures and this set my imagination reeling. Just what is this strange belief system? Does it work? How many more people out there have these seemingly magic powers?

Our research eventually led to my main character Mickey McGuigan. We’d heard through the farmer’s grapevine that he was a man who had been documenting cures and miracles for years. As luck had it Mickey was not only a fantastic character but also a farmer (albeit a retired one), so despite the shift of focus for film the BBC were still onboard.

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

DV: It didn’t take long for me to realize that Mickey would really help to knit these small stories together. After all he was a born storyteller, or to use the Irish Gaelic word, a Seanchaí.

Myths and folktales are still very much alive in Ireland. Mickey’s accounts of everyday life are a healthy balance of reality and pure imagination. I wanted to present this world of ‘miracles’ in the same way Mickey interprets them, with a willing suspension of disbelief.

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Mickey McGuigan in Miraculous Tales

T/F: Yeah, it’s interesting to talk about the suspension of disbelief in a documentary. I was really drawn into Mickey’s stories by the sense of place that you create. Could you talk about your approach to capturing the feel of rural Ireland? It’s such a beautiful place, it seems like there could be a danger in making the film too pretty, too postcardesque . . . .

DV: Northern Ireland can look very picturesque but most of the pretty locations in the film were once scenes of great tragedy. I wanted to give the audience an impression of the location’s darker side.

The bucolic scenery in the film is usually contrasted with one of Mickey’s horror stories about people meeting a grisly end in that very spot. Sometimes a clue is given in a song as to what lurks beneath the surface.

The only place that seems to have been spared from tragedy is Mickey’s forest; it’s his sanctuary from the modern world. To give this location an otherworldly, Eden-like atmosphere, we used a very dense soundscape of the world’s rarest bird calls.

T/F: Yeah, I really love the sound design, how you weave together different elements, including a large dose of classic country music. How did you go about creating the soundtrack?

DV: The idea of using classic American country music came from the place itself. Country music is massive in Ireland. Tune into any radio station and chances are someone like Billy Ray Cyrus will be singing about their achy breaky heart.

I did a lot of driving on this shoot and heard a lot of country music. We tried a lot of these songs out in the edit. The mood just fitted, and the lyrics added another layer of story.

Aside from the music we spent a lot of time on sound design. Virtually all of the original sound was replaced. I wanted to transport the viewer to a world they thought they knew but felt completely alien. We may have got carried away with forest wildlife effects though . . . when I saw the film recently it sounded like Mickey had walked into in a cosmic menagerie.

T/F: While the miraculous cures are sometimes bizarre or outlandish, and sometimes (in my opinion) quite funny, you make sure to show what motivates them, the real pain and loss that are an inevitable part of our lives. How did you think about striking this balance? Did you ever find yourself cutting out something that was funny because you thought it would be cruel to include or encourage the audience to laugh at someone?

DV: I was aware from the start that an audience unfamiliar with this world would at first see it as downright bizarre. After all how many times do you see a man spitting in a cow’s face? However, I wanted to go beyond the strange spectacle and get to know the people, understand them and ultimately respect them.

I did come across some cures and situations that were just too bizarre to include though. It would have tipped the balance into sheer comedy. One such omission was a man who cured piles with a nutmeg!

T/F: Finally, I wanted to ask about your decision to feature evangelical faith-healer John Purcell so prominently. What made decide on him as a character? He forms a really interesting contrast with Mickey.

DV: I knew I wanted a preacher from organised religion to be a character in the film. I was interested in how pagan healing practices had been absorbed and incorporated into a wider belief system.

I was actually filming with another preacher I’d met, then one day he took me to the opening of a new church. After an hour or so of monosyllabic bible readings I was losing the will to live. Then John Purcell took to the stage. He was like a turbo charged Billy Graham and it blew my socks off. John had that fire in his belly I’d been looking for.

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John Purcell in Miraculous Tales

Posted April 25, 2014

‘Place is the Space’ Panel

The sense of place is a fundamental aspect of cinema. In great films it is a part of every scene, a background presence that informs everything we see and hear.

Our panel “Place is the Space” investigates how filmmakers go about communicated this essential feeling. The panelists’ films take place in fascinating array of places, a small midwestern town struggling to hold on, a massive underground science experiment and a crowded city undergoing a major political upheaval. Moderator Beadie Finzi talks with Tracy Droz Tragos of Rich Hill, Mark Levinson of Particle Fever and Sherief Elkatsha of Cairo Drive.

This panel is available thanks to our friends at Columbia Access Television. You can also take this conversation with you as an mp3 here.

Posted April 17, 2014

‘Slomo’ Featured in NY Times Op-Docs

Joshua Izenberg’s short Slomo (T/F 2013) introduces us to a former doctor who in middle-age decided to dedicate himself to full-time rollerblading along the San Diego beach boardwalk. This eccentric and eloquent “Slomo” explains himself, raising pressing questions about what we really want in life and the meaning of freedom and happiness.

This film is now available to watch online as part of the NY-Times Op-Docs Series.

Izenberg discussed his interest in this subject in his opinion piece accompanying the film:

I’ve long been fascinated by people who make seismic changes late in life. It goes against the mainstream narrative: Grow up, pick a career, stick it out, retire. I was also curious about Slomo’s concept of “the zone,” a realm of pure subjectivity and connectedness that he achieves through his skating. The only thing Slomo loves more than being in the zone is talking about the zone, so it wasn’t hard to persuade him to take part in a documentary film.

Be sure to check out his full article here.

Posted April 10, 2014

‘Lies My Subject Told Me’ Panel

The delicate dance between filmmaker and subject took center stage in the “Lies My Subject Told Me Panel” at T/F 2014. Filmmakers Robert Greene (Actress), Jesse Moss (The Overnighters) and Maxim Pozdorovkin (The Notorious Mr. Bout) chatted about deceit and deception, what they decided to leave out and poetic vs. factual truth in documentary art. Here are a few excerpts featuring each of the three directors:

Watch a video of the complete conversation here, or take it with you as an mp3 here. Shout out to our dedicated media partner Columbia Access Television for capturing all of these conversations.

Posted

‘Gypsy Davy’ Writer/Director Rachel Leah Jones talks Flamenco and Filmmaking

David Serva Jones is one of the only Americans to ever become a world-class flamenco guitarist. He is also a heartbreaker who has left numerous women and children in his wake. One of these children is writer/director Rachel Leah Jones, who set out over the course of a decade to get to know her estranged father and collect stories from the people who he left behind. This includes her own mother, a Brooklyn girl who became a flamenco dancer and began a family with David in Berkeley in the early 70s. Gypsy Davy (T/F 2012) combines these investigations with haunting archival footage and elegant and biting narration. The result is a compelling examination of one man’s hard-to-pin-down legacy.

This film is now available on Hulu (embedded below) for viewers in the U.S. You can also watch it on a wide variety of digital platforms, including iTunesAmazonYouTube and Sundance Now and buy a DVD/CD combo pack including a soundtrack of David’s incredible music.

A few months back, I got the chance to speak with Jones about her film via Skype while she waited for a train in Tel Aviv.

-Dan Steffen

T/F: How did you get interested in telling a personal story in a film? Is this something you always thought you’d do?

RLJ: Well, I set out to tell this story without “taking it personally”, without talking about myself. Then finally, towards the very end, I had to capitulate and accept the fact that I was the reason there was a story. Everyone else was just living their lives and I was the one who wanted to stop and examine things.

Gypsy Davy was the first film that I started shooting and the third that I actually finished. It was good that it was already my third movie, because that way it was less painful to finish.

T/F: So when did you actually start filming?

RLJ: So it’s quite literal in the film, the very first shot in the movie is pretty much the very first shot I took. This is when I get called to his side after the accident where he broke his pelvis and shattered his wrist. That doesn’t mean I edited chronologically, but when I asked myself “What is the story I want to tell?” and “Where does it begin and end?” it made a lot of sense to say “Okay, where did it really begin?”

So, I just started filming. It took a long time to figure out what I actually wanted to do and muster up the courage to go and meet everybody. I had a life to live, jobs to work, other movies to make, kids to have; there was a whole decade of life that happened at the same time. And although this wasn’t how I intended to make the film, in the end I think there is some satisfaction, both for myself and hopefully for the viewer, in seeing us change over time.

T/F: So how does that process interact with the narration? It’s written in the second person as a letter to your father. Was that planned from the beginning?

RLJ: No, I had hoped that there wouldn’t have to be narration. Eventually, it became clear to me that that was out of the question. At the end of the decade, at the end of the day, I understood that the only person who went through any kind of change was me.

It starts with the big drama of his broken wrist. Will he ever play guitar again? And then more drama: he adopts his fifth kid, he gets married for the fourth time. All of this stuff happens to him and yet nothing happens to him. The man doesn’t change over the course of that decade. These twists and turns are all sort of par for the course; it’s what he’s been doing for 50 years.

So then, it was me who transformed in this period. I had to go figure out where I was at 40 where I may not have been at 30. I had to create that character and write a voiceover for her. And that was kind of the worst, not because I don’t like to write. I can write voiceovers for other people really well, but writing your own voice is tricky. How much of it was going to be true? Who was that girl going to be?

For the longest time I couldn’t figure if I should do it in the second person addressing him or in the third person addressing the audience. I kept changing it this way and that way. Like, “I was born in Berkeley California”, I don’t need to tell him that, he was there. But, “When I was ten years old, I started telling people he was dead”, that’s not as intense or interesting as “I started telling people you were dead”.

So, I did what probably a lot of documentary filmmakers secretly do when they’re finishing their personal movies. I went back to my therapist. I came with my laptop and these two voiceovers and said, “I’m sure one of them is truer than the other”. She just looked at me and said “why do you have to choose?”

Finally, I broke it down on paper, and realized every time I spoke in the third person I had put archive and every time I spoke in the second person my father was on screen. So it had already been resolved structurally, I just didn’t see it. And save for one or two adjustments, it was already written and written in both voices. When I ask people if the narration was in the second or third person they can’t remember. My therapist was right, why do you have to choose?

T/F: Could you talk some about how you structured the film? You use a non-linear structure to create mystery quite effectively.

RLJ: I don’t think I was looking to be mysterious at all. There are two obvious ways you could go. You could go from the present and roll it back from 100 to 0 or you could go forward from 0 to 100. But I asked myself, where does my story begin? It begins with my mom and me and we’re smack in the middle. So it begins with woman number three. And then what happened? Woman number four. And then what happened? Woman number five. But wait, where did it really all begin? Woman number one. But listen, there’s also woman number two . . .

That logic presented itself almost immediately. And save for a little bit of tweaking around woman number two, I never had to rearrange it. Something that seems really thought out was completely intuitive and just sort of took care of itself.

T/F: Watching the film, I found my attitudes towards David’s art very interesting. The virtuoso of his guitar playing is undeniable, but I also regarded it with a Darwinian cynicism, that it’s fundamentally a seduction technology or something. And that ambivalence comes through in the narration as well. So I wanted to ask you, do you enjoy David’s music?

RLJ: Today, totally. When I was younger, flamenco altogether, David’s or not David’s, I had a hard time with. I don’t know that I ever hated it, but I had a hard time with it. I had a hard time with it for white middle class reasons: the funky aesthetics; the throaty, growling vocals.

But it totally grew on me, and I totally learned to appreciate it, because, having heard it all my life, I also knew it deep down inside. I don’t play music, I’m the only one in the family that doesn’t do music or dance. I’m the brainy, mouthy one, those are my tools. But if I hear flamenco, I anticipate what’s coming. Now I can really enjoy flamenco, including his. Also, I can actually recognize his playing, which I couldn’t do when I was younger.

Bottom line is, he’s a really, really good musician. He’s not a flashy player. He doesn’t really care for the notion of solo guitar. For him guitar is all about accompaniment. Flamenco is basically about rhythm and song, or cante in Spanish, and the other stuff: guitar, dance, are additions. He understands himself in that supporting role, first as an accompanist, the person that brings out the best in the singer. Also, he really understands negative space. He understands the lack of sound as the place where the last sound you made reverberates. It’s a gentle and intelligent understanding of what music is about.

So I appreciate him as a musician. What I don’t appreciate is everybody’s romance of the artist as somebody who can’t do family and can’t do commitment. I don’t buy the notion that there’s an either/or. I’m not a brilliant filmmaker, but I’m assuming I’m not a bad filmmaker. I still have a kid, I still change diapers, I was still pregnant and nursing in the editing room. Very few women and way too many men get away with this notion that it’s either/or.

The music is fantastic and wonderful and it’s a perfect vehicle for him to express himself emotionally. All of that I buy, just not the either/or thing.

T/F: Last thing I wanted to ask about is the archival of your childhood that you use in the film. What is it that makes it so evocative? I’m always at a loss for why super 8 footage has such a cinematic quality.

RLJ: There’s a mixture of footage there, some is 16mm that my mom and her friends shot with an experimental filmmaker named Damon Rarey who was pretty active in the San Francisco Bay area at the time. He shot the garage sale footage where the two women go chasing after the guy who, because they’re so busy fighting over him, manages to rip off all of their stuff. They go running after him, and finally realize when he’s out of reach that all they have is each other.

I’d never even seen that footage until quite late in the editing. There was a point where I was like “How should this movie end?” and I had this vague recollection that I had asked my mom this very question, but I didn’t remember her answer. So I went back to some interview with her that I had thrown out a long time ago and found her answer, where she mentioned the garage sale film. I didn’t think much of it at the time of the interview, but now that I was editing I was like “I need that footage!” Someone located the one remaining copy on a farm in Northern California and telecined it for me. When I saw it I was like, it’s the story! It’s the movie of the movie! I had already written the voiceover about being born in the middle of a garage sale, so it was too perfect.

A lot of the other footage is Super 8 that my grandfather shot when he’d come out to visit from New York. The thing about all of the archive in the film is that Gypsy Davy is also a portrait of a generation. It’s a generation of bohemian baby boomers. It’s a self-aware yet unselfconscious generation; these people felt they had the right to reinvent themselves culturally, to change their names, even to assume new ethnic identities, to some extent. You can see it in the footage and photographs, it’s the bold and the beautiful. It’s not my generation, which gets all uptight and confused with identity politics. We’re much more self-conscious about the way we image ourselves. Whereas our parents were of that modernist era that took itself for granted and had a ball playing make believe. We, their children, on the other hand, are the products of post-modernism’s deconstructions, reconstructions and, let’s admit it, malcontents.

Posted March 31, 2014

True/False 2014 Videos from Tiny Attic Productions

Check out the complete series of True/False 2014 videos, created by Chelsea Myers and Paul Mossine of Tiny Attic Productions. There’s one documenting each day of the festival.

The first captures the excitement of opening night and our gala the Jubilee, featuring thoughts from filmmaker Joe Callander (Life After Death), music from Bruiser Queen and gravity-defying performances by Les Trois Coups.

Friday’s video explores the March March parade and the @CTION! Party, with music from Jerusalem and the Starbaskets.

Saturday’s entry collects thoughts from filmmakers Sherief Elkatsha (Cairo Drive), Jesse Moss (The Overnighters) and Andrew Droz Palermo (Rich Hill) while utilizing music from Paul Rucker and Lone Piñon.

The final video focuses on the many invisible hands that build the fantastical world of the Fest. We go on a short tour of Neon Treehouse and Taylor Ross constructions, with music provided by Prahlad, MNDR and James Cathcart’s SPACE IS THE PLACE.

Posted March 11, 2014

True/False 2014 Fest Digest

The True/False 2014 Fest Digest provides a day by day recap of this year’s Fest. Written in the midst of the excitement, each digest entry recalls a handful of the previous day’s events with commentary, pictures and videos. Look back at the Magic/Realism:

Day Zero

Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Day Four

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photo by Derek Jenkins

Posted March 10, 2014

True/False 2014 Fest Digest: Day Three

Saturday is the busiest day of True/False, with so much to see and to do, and even to feel. It’s an idea that was discussed by director Joe Callander after the screening of the tonally complex Life After Death at The Globe. Contrast makes the funny parts hilarious, and the sad parts even sadder. At True/False, sometimes it seems like we’re feeling everything all at once.

The inadequacy of any summary is inevitable, but we’ll try our best in this post to give a small taste of the T/F Saturday.

In a cinema, the sense of wonder can come on in a flash, often when you least expect it, when a detail that was previously mundane suddenly becomes profound. True/False also aims to create this effect all weekend long, locating it in a re-imagined utopian Columbia. Wonder is the essence of the art of stage magic, as you can see in the third installment of Jarred Alterman’s Magic/Realism intro films. David Klachko provides the explanation and Steve Ferris the demonstration.

The day kicked-off bright and early with the True Life Run, a surprise filled walk/run through the streets of Columbia, made possible by the support of the Columbia Orthopedic Group, and benefiting our True Life Fund. Runners had to take on challenges on course including ultimate hopscotch, Newspaper Labyrinth, Foam Noodle Freeze Tag, Catch the Rabbit (seen below) and the Mayor’s Council obstacle course. The winners were were Ian Chillag and Sara Spoede, but congratulations are due to everyone who participated.

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photo by Quint Smith

photo by Quint Smith

photo by Quint Smith

Over at the Odd Fellows Lodge, Omar Mullick of These Birds Walk oversaw Linda Västrik (Forest of the Dancing Spirits), Ewan McNicol (Uncertain), and Victor Kossakovsky (Demonstration) in the Beyond Pretty Pictures panel. The conversation explored the evolving technology of nonfiction filmmaking, and its promise and peril for doc makers.

photo by Frank Mendoza

photo by Frank Mendoza

The Missouri Theatre, The Unknown Known examined the career of Donald Rumsfeld through a series of interviews and readings by Rumsfeld of his “snowflakes”, the thousands and thousands of memos issued by Rummy as Secretary of Defense. After the film, editor Steven Hathaway talked about building the film out of 35 hours of interviews, before director Errol Morris appeared on screen via Skype. Morris noted with a laugh “I’m a talking head!” and reflected on the element of performance in everything Rumsfeld does.

photo by Xiaojie Ouyand

photo by Xiaojie Ouyand

Gabriel Viles gathered a crowd at our box office for the Art Ramble, a free guided tour of our many wonderous art installations. Viles reflected on the transitory nature of all True/False’s art, which only adds to its poignancy. The tour covered Leland Drexler-Russell’s glowing nest-egg-polyps “TransPlant”, Duncan Bindbeutel’s “Camera Obscure” on The Picturehouse Lawn and Yulia Pinkusevich’s imagined two-dimensional city scape “Stilted” in Alley A (seen below).

photo by Frank Mendoza

photo by Frank Mendoza

Later in the afternoon at Jesse Auditorium, the screening of the True Life Fund film Private Violence, was one of the most powerful events of the whole weekend. Before the lights went down, pastor Dave Cover of The Crossing explained his church’s sponsorship of the TLF, and the issue of domestic violence that the film addresses. Afterwards, T/F co-founder David Wilson was joined on stage by director Cynthia Hill and subjects Kit Gruelle and Deanna Walters, the recipients of this year’s Fund. The Q and A was interrupted by frequent bursts of applause from the crowd. Kit noted, ”We just don’t have this crime worked out yet.  This is the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, but we still aren’t addressing this crime in ways which I think we should, which is seeing it as the petri dish, the root crime, for almost all the other criminal behavior that we end up reacting to.”

photo by Derek Jenkins

photo by Derek Jenkins

Back at the Missouri Theatre, Ukraine is Not a Brothel depicted the complex and oftentimes paradoxical world of radical activism. It examined the case of the Ukrainian feminist group Femen, famous for staging topless demonstrations to protest the treatment of women.  Following the showing, director Kitty Green and Femen leader Inna Shevchenko spoke with the crowd. Talking about the group’s controversial use of nudity, Shevchenko argued “this peaceful but provocative action is at some level more effective than stones or guns”.

photo by Sarah Hoffman

photo by Sarah Hoffman

Inna Shevchenko went from the Ukraine screening to The Vimeo Theater at The Blue Note. There she served alongside Actress star Brandy Burre and Particle Fever physicist David Kaplan as judges in our signature game show, Gimme Truth! hosted by the always witty Johnny St. John. The three judges evaluated the veracity of 11 2-minute films, taking breaks laughter and drinks in-between.

photo by Roxana Pop

photo by Roxana Pop

Finally, late at Mojo’s it was time for Saturday’s installment of Mojo’s-a-Go-Go. SpaceIsThePlace, Née, and MNDR created an emotive trance for the synth-pop dance party.

photo by Corey Ransberg

photo by Corey Ransberg

Check out even more of day three and hear a few thoughts from T/F 2014 filmmakers Sherief Elkatsha (Cairo Drive), Jesse Moss (The Overnighters) and Andrew Droz Palermo (Rich Hill) alongside music from Paul Rucker and Lone Piñon in video three from Chelsea and Paul at Tiny Attic Productions.

Saturday rolled into Sunday, the weather here in CoMo took a turn for the worse. But we aren’t letting that slow us down one bit. Only one day of T/F 2014 remains. Lets make some magic!

Posted March 2, 2014

True/False 2014 Fest Digest: Day Two

Friday is when True/False expanded into its full bandwidth. The Picturehouse, The Forrest Theater and Jesse Auditorium all came to life, showing their first films of the year, while the Odd Fellows Lodge hosted the first of our panel discussions. Our expansionist tendencies were manifested by our most conspicuous event, the triumphant parade through downtown Columbia known as the March March.

The scope of our ambition outstrips any blog post, but below we’ll recap a few of the day’s memorable events.

Filmmaking is an inherently collaborative art form, requiring trust and intuitive coordination between the creative forces behind and in front of the camera. And True/False itself is nothing more than a harmony emerging from the coordinated actions of hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers, staffers, guests, artists, sponsors and more. So it was fitting that Jarred Alterman’s second Magic/Realism segment takes up the subject of collaboration, introducing the nuances of Aaro and Sophie Froese’s magical teamwork.

Friday began with the first ever T.G.I.T/F, a free event for all Missouri high school and college students. At the Missouri Theatre a raucous and impromptu welcoming committee cheered the arrival of each additional group of students. In the lobby, artist Taylor Ross and members of Chimney Choir performed in coordination with Jupiter and Fyn, Ross’s incredible musical fox.

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photo by Derek Jenkins

Everyone then took their seats for the screening of Particle Fever, a fascinating look at the most intricate science experiment in human history. Before the film, director director Mark Levinson gave a few opening comments explaining that the assembled group of students was truly his target audience. Afterwards, particle physicist David Kaplan joined Levinson on stage for the Q and A. “Science is not linear,” he explained “It’s not ‘This discovery is made, and then this one and this one, and there’s a set of instructions. It’s totally… you can run into dead ends. 6 months, or 6 years, or a whole generation until you actually figure out what the hell is going on. The purpose of the film was to experience the uncertainty that most of doing research is, and then the overwhelming joy when you understand something.”

After the film, T.G.I.T/F migrated to Orr Street Studios, where students created artistic pieces for the March March parade later that afternoon. Several games of hacky sack were accompanied by music from Les Trois Coups, Chimney Choir, Choff, and Paul Rucker.

Over at the The Picturehouse, our cinema inside the United Methodist Church, True/False began with Miraculous Tales, director Daniel Vernon’s film examining both an Irish miracle worker and an evangelical preacher. After the film Vernon expressed gratitude for the opportunity to screen this work in the church, because he sees it as grappling with questions of faith and doubt.

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photo by Sarah Hoffman

Early in the afternoon at the Missouri Theatre, a packed house was on hand for Rich Hill, which introduces us to three young teenage boys from a small Missouri community located 70 miles south of Kansas City. Afterwards, filmmaking cousins Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo (a former Columbia resident and a good friend of True/False) took the stage for a Q and A. MUTV captured the short clip below, where they explained how they went about building a relationship with their subjects.

At the Oddfellows Lodge, the “Lies My Subject Told Me” panel hosted by Hot Docs director Charlotte Cook brought together filmmakers Robert Greene (Actress), Maxim Pozdorovkin (The Notorious Mr. Bout) and Jesse Moss (The Overnighters). Below you can see a small taste of the panel, where Robert Greene explains his take on the idea of True/False.

At 3 pm at The Globe, our 2012 True Vision Award honoree Victor Kossakovsky returned to T/F with Demonstration, a film he created with 32 students from a Master of Creative Documentary course at the Pompeu Fabra University. He decided on a whim to send his students into the streets to film the massive protests in Spain. One of those students, Ainara Vera Esparza, was also present. In the Q and A Kossakovsky talked about viewing the protests as an elaborate dance, which led to the film’s incredible sound design. He argued that by replacing much of the real sound with a ballet, it forces the audience to see what is really happening.

Meanwhile, over on 9th Street, La Operacion Jarocha from Veracruz, Mexico performed the passionate music. Combining indigenous, Spanish and African influences, they see their music as an accompaniment for all of life’s occurences, both tragic and triumphant.

photo by Derek Jenkins

photo by Derek Jenkins

Then it was time for one of our signature events, the March March parade, a spirited, outward display of the inner psyche of festival goers. Two larger than life busts of T/F co-founders Paul and David advanced near the front, while Teletubbies brought up the rear with the percussion section. In-between, students who participated in T.G.I.T/F adorned masks and head gear they crafted just a few hours before.

photo by Quint Smith

photo by Quint Smith

photo by Quint Smith

photo by Quint Smith

photos by Roxana Pop

photos by Roxana Pop

At 7, The Great Wall came to life on the massive wall of the Picturehouse. Across the street at Shakespeare’s, Jim Bogan led a toast for his recently deceased friend Les Blank, who’s films are appearing on the Wall this year.

photo by Sarah Hoffman

photo by Sarah Hoffman

Meanwhile, the first film played at our largest venue, Jesse Auditorium. Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart a look back at the early 90s sensationalized trial of a New Hampshire woman convicted of being an accomplice to her husband’s murder. During the Q and A director Jeremiah Zagar explained the trial’s significance in light of today’s media saturated criminal justice system. “This is a precedent. And nobody knew it was a precedent when it was happening.”

captivatedquintsmith

photo by Quint Smith

At True/Folk Showcase at the Blue Fugue, Rae Fitzgerald, Dubb Nubb and Syna So Pro (seen below) filled the room with enchanting harmonies.

photo by Derek Jenkins

photo by Derek Jenkins

While over at Cafe Berlin, the second Toast/False showcase included a fiery performance from Yva Las Vegass. Our friends at the music blog Folk to Folk captured a song from her set.

Back at Odd Fellows Lodge, comedian Dave Hill hosted Campfire Stories, our intimate gathering where filmmakers share stories about the scenes that got away. In the clip below from our friends at Columbia Access Television, Miraculous Tales director Daniel Vernon tells a story about a crazy night in the arctic.

The night came to a close it with dancing and revelry our the @CTION Party! at Tonic nightclub. MNDR & DJ Gold E Mouf provided the music.

photo by Roxana Pop

photo by Roxana Pop

photo by Roxana Pop

photo by Roxana Pop

For one more look back at a celebratory T/F Friday, check out this short video from the team at Tiny Attic Productions. You’ll get to see more of the March March and @CTION!, scored with music from Jerusalem and the Starbaskets.

Onward to Saturday!

Posted March 1, 2014

True/False 2014 Fest Digest: Day One

There’s nothing quite like the beginning of new True/False. Even for those of us who spend a large part of the year directing efforts towards these four days, opening night still feels like a revelation. The sense of collective curiosity around the streets of Columbia is truly singular, and even the strongest memory pales alongside the present. In this digest we’ll highlight just a fraction of the events that made opening night magical.

Each day at T/F you’ll be getting a different take on our 2014 theme, Magic/Realism. Director Jarred Alterman’s micro-films each introduce an important idea from the world of stage magic. In the first, Gary Oxenhandler explains the mechanics of misdirection, a tactic critical to magicians and filmmakers alike.

With the opening of this year’s Fest, our smallest (and by some accounts best) venue, the little theater at Ragtag Cinema, has been renamed the Willy Wilson Theater. This is in honor of a recently departed friend, whose years of support made both Ragtag and True/False possible. Artist Jesse Starbuck recently painted the cinder block wall with one of Willy’s favorite quotes, “Nothing is impossible. Impossible just takes a wee bit longer.”

At 5 pm, the first film played in the Willy Wilson Theater. This was Approaching the Elephant, a stunning black and white observation of an anarchist “free school” for young children, where all classes are voluntary and students and teachers have equal authority.

photo by Derek Jenkins

photo by Derek Jenkins

The film inspired a spirited Q and A, led by T/F programmer Chris Boeckmann and featuring director Amanda Rose Wilder and subject Alex Khost. The conversation ran for a solid half an hour, and could have easily kept right on going. Amanda expressed gratitude that she got to see a narrative unfold right before her eyes, while noting that children are both “complex” and “scary”.  Of the kids in the film, Alex remarked “Each day every one of these children has to go to school and say ‘What am I going to do today?’  Most of us that doesn’t happen until we’re 18, 21 years old.”

approaching2

photo by Derek Jenkins

Meanwhile, in the august setting of the historic Missouri Theatre, True/False began in style with our opening night Jubilee, a celebratory masquerade. Weaving your way through the crowd, buskers and bartenders seemed to be lurking around every corner. Joyous music rang out over the hum of excited conversation.

jubilee

photo by Catherine Meagher

The Jubilee led into an appropriately jubilant film. Jodorowsky’s Dune tells the story of how cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky assembled a dream team of “spiritual warriors”, dedicated to carrying out his radical adaptation of the classic science-fiction novel Dune. As T/F co-director Paul Sturtz noted in his pre-film introduction, this film is particularly resonant for True/False, which also involves a remarkable group of people coming together to attempt to a seemingly impossible task.

After the film director Frank Pavish and editor Alex Ricciardi discussed the process of working with Jodorowsky, who they found both charismatic and terrifying. They also recalled how Jodorowsky was moved to tears when he saw Jodorowsky’s Dune for the first time at Cannes.

jodorowsky

photo by Derek Jenkins

Back over at Ragtag, the big theater hosted the first screening of Robert Greene’s  new film Actress. A unique collaboration, this film follows The Wire actress Brandy Burre’s return to acting after getting out of the profession to start a family. In a post-screening Q and A, Greene and Burre talked about the film’s use of music to create an impression of “theatricality”.

robert

photo by Quint Smith

Out in the lobby and over at the T/F box office, the gorgeous new poster for Actress went on display. It was designed by T/F graphic artist Theresa Berens and painted by artist Laura Baran.

actress poster

At Cafe Berlin, the first of our “Toast/False” showcases featured intricate soundscapes from Eric Rich, Ruth Acuff, Nevada Greene and the amazing Paul Rucker, seen below in the video captured by our friends at Folk to Folk.

Later on at the Vimeo Theater at The Blue Note, it was time for a journey inside the psyche of singer-songwriter Nick Cave with the chimeric 20,000 Days on Earth. When the lights came up, directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard discussed how they utilized psychoanalytic sessions to find a new way of asking questions. They also recalled how they stole Cave’s song books and found inspiration in his unwritten lyrics.

20k

photo by Derek Jenkins

Finally, long after the sun went down, opening night ended at Mojo’s with garage rock, blues and everything in-between from Molly Gene One Whoaman Band, Coward, and Jerusalem and the Starbaskets.

jerusalem

photo by Catherine Meagher

For one more look back at the magical atmosphere of opening night, check out this video from Chelsea Myers and Paul Mossine of Tiny Attic Productions, featuring thoughts from filmmaker Joe Callander (Life After Death), music from Bruiser Queen and gravity-defying performances by Les Trois Coups.

So much True/False still lies ahead of us. See you at the movies!

Posted February 28, 2014
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