Ragtag Film Society’s mission is to champion independent film and media art and serve film communities both locally and globally. True/False showcases the very best nonfiction films, music, and art from around the world. The recent restrictions on immigration directly affect us and our ability to fulfill our mission.
At True/False, we bring the filmmakers to our audiences. Last year, True/False hosted two Iranian citizens making their first trip to Columbia, Missouri: Mehrdad Oskouei (True Vision honoree for Starless Dreams) and Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami (Sonita). Our audiences were moved by these films and the presence of the filmmakers added immeasurably to their experience. Today, both filmmakers would be blocked from entry to the U.S. because they are citizens of Iran.
As we work to finalize our program for this coming fest, our ability to secure participation and attendance from international filmmakers is gravely threatened. Whether directly blocked or deterred by the chilling effect of the recent executive order, many of our international guests no longer feel welcome in the United States.
While we experience direct losses to our programming from these restrictions, we recognize the much broader threat they pose to American values. To target one religious group for registration and suspicion violates the highest values that underpin our First Amendment, and imperils the free exercise of religion for all who worship in America. But the First Amendment does a lot more.
The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights (1791): Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In a very real sense, the First Amendment is the banner that protects everything we do. It protects our ability to present innovative cinema from around the world. It protects the artists, both cinematic and otherwise, who bring and install provocative work to True/False. It protects our sponsors and allies’ ability to worship and share their space and their resources with our organization. It even protects our festivalgoers’ right to peaceably assemble and march a few blocks down the streets of downtown Columbia for the sake of the arts.
For the democratic future of our children and their children’s children, cultural and civic organizations must forcefully uphold our country’s highest values. As a festival, we thrive when assembling artists and thinkers from diverse backgrounds. Our very existence is dependent on a union that celebrates pluralism, a welcoming of differences.
Today we affirm that the First Amendment is the bedrock of our society and of events like True/False. We hope everyone will understand the vitality of these rights and take appropriate steps to join us in their defense. We want to bring the best global artists to the United States, but we cannot do so if they are detained at our borders.
See you at the Fest.
The Ragtag Film Society:
True/False Film Fest & Ragtag Cinema
Posted January 31, 2017
We’re thrilled to announce that we have recently received a $6,800 grant from the Missouri Humanities Council (MHC) for our Filmmaker Education Ambassadors program. The MHC is the only state-wide agency in Missouri devoted exclusively to humanities education for citizens of all ages. It has served as a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities since 1971.
The T/F Filmmaker Education Ambassador program exists to connect students and community members with expert documentary filmmakers and scholars. True/False consistently brings world-class filmmakers to Columbia, Missouri who explore all manner of subjects. In the last few years, films have ranged from Sonita, about child marriage in Afghanistan, to Something Better To Come, an anthropological portrait of living in one of the largest dumps in Russia, to Western about a town on the US-Mexican border, to stories that cover the lives of writers, and more. We believes in the power of pairing film with the experts who made them to ignite dialogue. Together, we learn to reimagine what’s possible.
For the 2017 installment of True/False, Filmmaker Education Ambassadors will consist of four major components: a Filmmaker Discussion Series for the general public, Filmmaker-Designed Workshops for high school students, Camp True/False for high schoolers from Columbia and beyond, and the Student Symposium for students of all ages. These events will take place over the course of the four-day festival. The goal is to facilitate interactions between Missourians and humanities experts and scholars. Through these interactions, we aim to explore ideas and deepen our understanding of the world around us.
The filmmakers participating in the Filmmaker Education Ambassador program as well as the specific times and locations of the events themselves will be finalized by early 2017 and advertised then.
For more information about the grants program of the Missouri Humanities Council, call 314.781.9660 or 800.357.0909 or write to the MHC: 415 South 18th Street, Suite 100, St. Louis, Missouri 63103. You can also read more about our educational initiatives, here.
Posted December 1, 2016
For the first time ever, we have an official Sustainability Sponsor of the Fest! True/False is committed to a greener future, and we are excited to partner with 360 Vodka to divert some of the waste generated at the Fest by collecting compost at festival events and at various sponsor venues, including several restaurants in downtown Columbia.
Missouri-based 360 Vodka prides itself on being the world’s first eco-friendly vodka. It is locally sourced and sustainably made, using recycled materials and reusable closures. 360 Vodka’s sustainability sponsorship will provide for waste bins to collect compost and will supply the farm truck at the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture (CCUA) with a liftgate to help better manage the compost.
CCUA will retain the truck and bins post-fest, ensuring an ongoing partnership between the Fest and the City of Columbia. “With 360’s sponsorship, True/False will be leveraging a partner that already does a lot for local sustainability to help them do what they do even better,” said True/False Sustainability Coordinator Sarah Dixon. The project will expand the capacity of CCUA to divert organic waste from the landfill and repurpose it into nutrient-rich compost that will fuel the production of fresh, local produce.
Additional sustainability efforts include a 25-volunteer “green team” to keep the Fest’s sustainability efforts on track, as well as the placement of additional recycling bins at every venue and throughout downtown Columbia, including a recycling dumpster that will be dressed up by Gabe Meyer, Brian Doss, Becca Sullinger, and Mark Steck of local art crew Neon Treehouse. Fest-goers will be encouraged to recycle all glass, aluminum, plastics labeled 1-7, cardboard, and paper products.
For more information about 360 Vodka, visit www.vodka360.com
Posted February 18, 2016
We are happy to announce the feature films included in our 2016 program! Each of these films expands the boundaries of nonfiction cinema, inviting audiences to be challenged, inspired, and entertained.
Several films are celebrating their debuts at True/False. The Pearl takes a sensitive look at gender through the eyes of four middle-aged trans women. The Prison In Twelve Landscapes is an impressionistic essay film about the prison-industrial complex. In Peter and the Farm, we unearth a rural tragedy in Vermont.
2016 also brings a marked increase in international titles, including films from China, Iran, Iraq, Australia, Argentina, and the Philippines. Discoveries include Those Who Jump, a landmark collaboration between two German filmmakers and first-time co-director Abou Bakara Sidibé about migrants seeking to scale the fences that separate Africa from Europe. Thy Father’s Chair is set in a transcendently messy Brooklyn apartment. From Argentina comes the intimate family story Nosotras·Ellas. Other films include Behemoth, a staggering journey through Inner Mongolia’s ravaged grasslands; Another Country (Australia), a guided tour of the outback; Between Sisters (Italy), in which a long-buried family secret is excavated; Helmut Berger, Actor about an uneasy relationship between subject and filmmaker and Michael Shannon Michael Shannon John (Canada), which seeks to locate a father who abandoned his family.
Fresh from Sundance comes director Roger Ross Williams’ inspiring, true-life fairy tale Life, Animated, which will play as the fest’s Jubilee film. Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You is Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady’s fresh spin on the celebrity bio-pic. And the layered and revelatory Tickled transcends its silly subject matter. Coming from their Toronto film festival launches are Presenting Princess Shaw about an unlikely musical collaboration; Sherpa, an adventure film with a political conscience; and The Music of Strangers from Oscar-winning® T/F favorite Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet From Stardom).
As part of the fest’s commitment to the cutting edge of nonfiction, True/False is embracing films that experiment with content and form. Titles include Deborah Stratman’s first feature, The Illinois Parables, Roberto Minervini’s The Other Side, Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine, and Sergio Oksman’s O Futebol.
2016’s previously announced True Vision Award recipient, Mehrdad Oskouei, will be appearing with a couple of films including his newest, Starless Dreams, set in a rehabilitation center in Tehran. Also previously announced as the recipient of our True Life Fund, Sonita follows Sonita Alizadeh, a young Afghan rapper.
Also previously announced for the 2016 Neither/Nor series, the archival program of films that muddles the borders between fiction and nonfiction, True/False Film Fest is collaborating with film critic Nick Pinkerton on a series exploring Mondo cinema. Films in this series include the critically acclaimed Des Morts (1979), as well as cult documentary classics Mondo Cane (1962), The Killing of America (1981), and Africa Addio (1966).
2016 slate here!
Posted February 10, 2016
We are proud to announce that Mehrdad Oskouei will receive this year’s True Vision Award in honor of his achievement in, and contribution to, the field of nonfiction filmmaking.
The True Vision award is the only award given out at the fest. Oskouei is the thirteenth recipient of this honor. Last year the award was given to Adam Curtis. Other recent winners of the True Vision Award include Laura Poitras (2010), James Marsh (2011), Victor Kossakovsky (2012), and Amir Bar-Lev (2013).
Oskouei will be appearing at the fest with his newest film, Starless Dreams, as well as a selection of his previous work. Starless Dreams is an intimate portrayal of the lives of seven girls at a rehabilitation center in Tehran, Iran. Starless Dreams acts as the final piece in a documentary trilogy that includes It’s Always Late for Freedom (2008) and The Last Days of Winter (2011), all of which explore questions of crime and delinquency in Iranian youth.
“We are incredibly excited to bring Mehrdad to the festival,” said True/False programmer Pamela Cohn. “His talent is in listening closely to the stories of the ignored and marginalized and then transforming them into something beautiful.”
About his own filmmaking Oskouei stated, “My responsibility as a filmmaker, along with aiding in positive and effective social changes, is to increase public awareness. I am convinced that a documentary filmmaker should at times show images of humanity’s suffering with the hopes of putting an end to such suffering. All my films have been made with this firm belief.”
One of Oskouei’s Tehran-based producers, Siavash Jamali, conveyed the following via email: “Mehrdad and the whole team of Starless Dreams are so delighted that he will receive this unique award.”
“It’s no small feat getting a filmmaker from Tehran to Columbia, MO,” adds Fest director David Wilson. “This kind of cross-cultural exchange and the conversations it will spark are at the core of our mission.”
The award is given with support from Restoration Eye Care. The award is designed and cast in bronze by local mid-Missouri artist Larry Young.
Posted February 8, 2016
For the 2016 edition of our Neither/Nor sidebar, we are collaborating with film critic Nick Pinkerton on a series exploring Mondo (or so-called “shockumentary”) cinema and its offshoots. This is the fourth edition of Neither/Nor, an archival program of films that muddles the borders between fiction and nonfiction. For the third year in a row, Neither/Nor is presented with the generous support of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Mondo cinema began in 1962, when the Italian directors Gualtiero Jacopetti, Paolo Cavara and Franco Prosperi released their groundbreaking Mondo Cane, which captures shocking cultural traditions from both the ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ world. In its opening minutes, Mondo Cane claims that “all the scenes in this film are true and are taken only from life,” adding that “the duty of the chronicler is not to sweeten the truth but to report it objectively.” But it’s clear that most, if not all, of the footage in Mondo Cane has been choreographed by its directors. This in-between work played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, received an Oscar nomination and was an international box office hit.
The success of Mondo Cane inspired dozens of startling globetrotting documentaries, which were often referred to as ‘Mondo films.’ At their worst, Mondo films could be thoughtless parades of misery and debauchery (see the Faces of Death series). But within this system, several conscientious directors created urgent, transgressive cinema. High on that list are Jacopetti and Prosperi, whose next collaboration, Africa Addio (1966), was a scathing indictment of the European nations who spent centuries plundering the African continent only to recklessly abandon it during decolonization.
In his 20,000-word monograph, Pinkerton persuasively defends the frequently maligned Mondo tradition and analyzes several of its greatest works, including The Killing of America (1982), a chilling film that uses disturbing footage to call attention to America’s increased gun violence, and Des Morts (1979), a sensitive meditation on how people worldwide process grief.
“When Nick first proposed this series, our instant response was to recoil,” True/False programmer Chris Boeckmann said. “Why would we ask our audiences to sit through such appalling material? But we were stunned by the movies he recommended and quickly realized that the ‘Mondo’ label (or even worse, the ‘shockumentary’ label) is often reductive and misapplied. The films in this series tackle important topics with an intensity and bluntness that’s sorely missing in so many of today’s ‘issue documentaries.'”
All Neither/Nor screenings will be free and accompanied by post-screening conversations, which will be moderated by Pinkerton. Special guests include Belgian director Thierry Zéno (director, Des Morts) and the U.S.-based Sheldon Renan (director, The Killing of America).
Nick Pinkerton is a freelance journalist and film programmer. His writing has appeared in Sight & Sound, ArtForum, Film Comment, Moving Image Source and Reverse Shot, among other publications. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, lives in Queens, NY, and has programmed at a variety of venues throughout the NYC area.
For more information about past edition of Neither/Nor and links to their monographs, visit the Neither/Nor page HERE.
Posted February 4, 2016
The True/False Film Fest announces Sonita, a film by Rokhsareh Ghaem, as this year’s recipient of the True Life Fund. Sonita marks a decade of powerful films and deserving subjects sponsored by the Fund.
Sonita Alizadeh is a young, Afghan rapper living undocumented in Tehran, Iran. She shares a home with her older sister and niece and spends her days at an NGO for refugees. There, she goes to class, helps with chores, and performs impromptu rap concerts for her friends.
When Sonita’s mother comes to Iran for a visit after years of only having phone contact, we learn of her plan to take Sonita back to Afghanistan and sell her into marriage. Sonita’s brother has found someone to marry, and the family needs money to pay the mahr (similar to a dowry), for his bride. Selling Sonita as a wife will make her brother’s marriage affordable. Sonita has watched this happen with so many of her friends; she uses their experiences and her own as fuel for her lyrics.
What follows is a tumultuous struggle– a daughter who seeks independence, a filmmaker who questions whether to intercede, and a developing musician who longs for her voice to be heard.
Sonita will come to True/False from the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury and Audience awards for World Documentary. Both Sonita Alizadeh and Director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami will attend all of the screenings at True/False.
The True Life Fund offers support to a film’s subjects in appreciation of their choice to share their stories with audiences. Funds raised through the True Life Fund will assist Sonita in day-to-day survival and achieving her musical aspirations.
True/False thanks The Crossing, a local Columbia church, for their continued partnership. The Crossing will be sponsoring the True Life Fund for the ninth year in a row.
The True Life Fund is comprised of thousands of individual gifts, matched through a generous grant from the Bertha Foundation. In 2016, True/False hopes to raise more than $25,000 for Sonita. To give, visit www.truelifefund.org, text (573) 818-2151, or donate at the True/False screening.
Last year, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence received the True Life Fund. The fund went to support the film’s subject Adi Rukun and his family in their relocation process.
The True/False Film Fest will take place March 3 – 6 in downtown Columbia, Missouri.
Posted February 1, 2016
When Associate Producer Un Kyong Ho got the text from Director Cynthia Hill that their film, Private Violence, had been nominated for an Emmy, she tried to play it cool.
Un Kyong was on a video conference call with other Fledgling Fund grantees. “I probably looked like an insane person to the other folks on the call,” Un Kyong said. “I was all over the place! I’m still all over the place!”
Cynthia was on a shoot that day for another project and said the Emmy was the furthest thing from her mind.
The last time we saw these two filmmakers, along with Private Violence’s main subjects, Kit Gruelle and Deanna Walters, they were at True/False 2014 as True Life Fund recipients. During their time here, they visited school-wide assemblies for all four Columbia Public High Schools and held community meetings on domestic violence.
Since T/F, the film has made its international premier at Hot Docs in Toronto and won the Human Rights Award at Full Frame Festival in Durham, NC. (Durham, “The Bull City:” Cynthia’s hometown and not far from where Private Violence was filmed.)
“It feels good to get the accolades,” Un Kyong said, “But at the end of the day, we want to make change around this issue.”
Figuring out how to measure change when it comes to an issue like domestic violence is, not surprisingly, far from simple. Sure, there are national statistics, but with a subject that is so deeply hidden, and, well, private, it can feel impossible to know if and how the needle moves.
“I remember being in Kentucky in a small college town to screen the film,” Kit said. She met a young man who had come to the screening by mistake, perhaps because he misunderstood the event.
“But then he realized he needed to stay and talk about his experience with his abusive father, who was a local business man, the kind of man no one would think was an abuser.” Kit said. “It was one of the most powerful experiences I had. We all sat and listened to him talk, and then cry, about the abuse he and his mother suffered. After he was done, he walked out. Most of his friends left with him. The rest of us sat there for a few minutes, thinking about what we had just seen. This is domestic violence in America: still rampant, still too hidden.”
This is a big part of the work of Private Violence: making the violence less private. Creating safe spaces for people to share stories. Opening up dialogues and conversations that have yet to be breached.
When the film was in Cincinnati, Ohio, for instance, the filmmakers had their first successful summit, largely because of the involvement of Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
“They brought together 80 stakeholders from across their community,” Cynthia said. “Everyone from the professors, social workers, advocates, medical health professionals, folks from across the legal landscape including lawyers and judges, law enforcement officers, and even the mayor.”
The Private Violence team sees Cincinnati as a model for the power documentaries can yield, and they’re working on a how-to guide based on the summit for other communities. In October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, they’ll be in Sioux City, Iowa and back in Durham, North Carolina for similar events.
Along with these events, the Private Violence team has been working on an immediate metric post-screening. If you were at a showing at T/F 2014, you may have remembered those little tear-off surveys you were asked to fill out right after the film.
Here is where I admit that as someone who was passing collection buckets for the True Life Fund immediately after the screening, and overseeing large quantities of cash that were mixed in with slips of papers, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the surveys. Part of me wondered how valuable they could be. And now I must eat my hat. Because while I don’t get excited about numbers too often, the stats form this survey blew me away.
From the four-question survey, they were were able to determine that of the respondents:
- 94% felt the film had increased their understanding of domestic violence;
- 75% had asked the question “Why doesn’t she just leave?” of a person in a domestic violence situation;
- 86% felt they would respond differently to domestic violence victims after watching the film;
- 83% said they would consider getting involved in advocacy efforts in their community.
“From that quick survey, we learned that the ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ reaction to domestic violence is a pervasive part of our victim-blaming culture,” Un Kyong said. “We also learned that the film shifted people’s thinking around DV and potentially helped to activate an audience to move towards change. That is huge.”
The survey generated a bit of buzz; it was the first time a doc had used a tear survey to measure audience response and impact. Un Kyong said they were proud to have created a tool that other filmmakers can use to capture the kind of data that might help with partnerships or funding. (For a great interview on measuring a film’s impact, we’d direct you to an episode with Lina Srivastava from our friends over at She Does podcast.)
So while I’ve heard these women –Cynthia, Un Kyong, Kit, and Deanna— call their time on the road with Private Violence a “listening tour,” another way of thinking about it is as an attention tour. Attention is being paid to survivors, attention is being drawn to an open secret, and they’re exploring the question of just how much action can come from the attention of one film. As for the Emmy, there’s a reason we call the nomination a nod: it’s one more attentive glance.
by Allison Coffelt
Posted August 7, 2015
We’ve built a collection of press coverage of True/False 2015.
Slate critic Dana Stevens hosted an in-depth conversation with filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer as part of the Based on a True Story Conference. This was later distilled by Sam Adams of Criticwire into a “documentary manifesto”. Adams also filed this wrap-up of the Fest. At Indiewire, Ashley Clark wrote about T/F and how we approach watching docs.
Scott Tobias wrote in The Dissolve “Time and again at this year’s True/False there was ample proof that the goals of pursuing social justice and creating great art needn’t be either/or propositions. Tobias also discussed T/F with Noel Murray on an episode of The Dissolve podcast.
Tim Grierson of Paste Magazine offers an in-depth wrap up of his festival and the films he saw.
Ben Godar of Nonfics approached the Fest through this year’s theme of time.
Vadim Rizov at Filmmaker Magazine focused in on some of the short films which screened at this year’s Fest.
The Columbia Daily Tribune’s After Hours offered their picks for the best of True/False 2015.
Charlie Lyne at Sight & Sound raised important and provocative questions about the festival’s future and present.
Nick Pinkerton reflected on True/False 2015 in a piece at Artforum.
Eric Hynes at Reverse Shot reflected on the passing of Albert Maysles and the conversation around “direct cinema” at True/False 2015.
Jordan Cronk wrote two pieces on the Fest, one for Filmmaker Magazine on our Neither/Nor sidebar of Polish chimeras and another at Cinemascope on the Fest itself.
Kevin B. Lee of Fandor Keyframe created this video where film critics discuss their very favorite T/F 2015 selections.
Posted March 30, 2015
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The British film magazine Sight & Sound has announced its first-ever list of the greatest documentaries of all time. The top 50 films includes T/F selections The Fog of War (T/F 2004), Man on Wire (T/F 2008), Waltz with Bashir (T/F 2009), The Act of Killing and Leviathan (T/F 2013). Also included are the Iranian films The House is Black and Close-Up which played T/F as part of our 2014 Neither/Nor series.
This list is generated by a survey of film critics, programmers and academics. A separate list ranks the choices of documentary filmmakers. We’ll have much more to say about this survey when we can dig through all of the individual ballots, to be published on August 14.
The Fog of War, Errol Morris, T/F 2004
Man On Wire, James Marsh, T/F 2008
Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman, T/F 2009
Leviathan, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, T/F 2013
The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer, T/F 2013
The House is Black, Forough Farrokhzad, 1963, Neither/Nor 2014
Close-Up, Abbas Kiarostami, 1990, Neither/Nor 2014
Posted August 1, 2014