Updates

Back to School with Amanda Rose Wilder of ‘Approaching the Elephant’

Amanda Rose Wilder’s debut feature Approaching the Elephant spies into the first year of a “free school”, a radical institution where all the rules are decided democratically and the teachers and students have equal say. An intimate observation reminiscent of the early direct cinema of Frederick Wiseman and the Maysles, the film captures an elemental power struggle between students Lucy and Jio, and their school director Alex Khost in striking black and white.

Approaching the Elephant was unveiled at True/False 2014, screened last weekend at the Wisconsin Film Festival and plays for the second time today at the Sarasota Film Festival. I got the chance to chat with Amanda about her film and its inspiration a couple weeks ago.

-Dan Steffen

T/F: How did you first hear about the idea of a free school?

ARW: My father is an elementary school teacher. When I was ten we took a trip to visit Summerhill, the most well-known free school.

T/F: Where’s that at?

ARW: Suffolk, England. It was founded in 1921 by A.S. Neill.

We visited for a couple days. It was a memorable and in some ways shocking experience. In elementary school I was the girl that followed the rules – but liked kids who stirred things up. Summerhill was full of uninhibited energy. The kids were all ‘characters’…self-confident, bold, frank.

I remember I sat in on a writing class that began with a free write, something I’ve done since but hadn’t at that point. I remember sitting there thinking, “what do they want me to free write?” while everyone else was furiously scribbling whatever they wished. I vividly remember a boy shouting during a democratic meeting, ‘fuck off and die!’ and went home quoting that phrase.

T/F: So how did you decide on a free school as a setting for a film? Was it an idea that formed that early on?

ARW: Well, it came about after I graduated from Marlboro College. Marlboro is a progressive college; the last two years you spend working on a thesis of your own design. My thesis was titled “The Poetic Documentary and the Documentary Poem” and I had gotten really into documentarians the Maysles and Wiseman and poets Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams and how poetry intersects with documentary. After I graduated, my film professor, Jay Craven, asked if I wanted to make a documentary with him on progressive education. So, we scraped together a little money and I went to the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) Conference. I conducted about 15 interviews with anyone I could grab. One of those people, who I just met on the street, was Alex Khost. He told me he was months away from opening a free school in New Jersey, 20 minutes from where I was living. He was open, charming, comfortable in front of the camera. After the interview I asked if I could show up on their first day.

From the first day at Teddy McArdle Free School I could tell it would be an incredible thing to document and would fit nicely with the kind of direct cinema filmmaking I’d grown to love. There was a story unfolding before the camera, and a fascinating group of people, most of whom were children.

I shot for two school years. The film comprises the first year, from the first day to the last day. I amassed about 240 hours total.

T/F: So, what’s True/False about your film?

ARW: Oh man, good question . . .

Well, here’s why I decided this was a story I wanted to tell: I quickly realized that the free school model allows for kids to be themselves in a way most schools do not. Their personalities are really able to come out. And as a filmmaker I have an interest in capturing people honestly, as their full-blown selves, warts and all, you might say, but lovingly.

I think you see this in similar ways in documentaries that are about kids outside of school, films like Streetwise, Children Underground. Kids’ lives, as much as adults’, are messy and complicated. I thought, wow, this model is allowing for me to capture the lives of children, something very true and rarely shown.

So I began the film because I had an interest in free schools and then realized I could capture this incredible social dynamic, these complex personalities. The model became a means to an end, a context for a story I wanted to tell.

ATE-LUCY

Lucy in Approaching the Elephant

T/F: Yeah, it really reminded me of how intense childhood was, how important every conflict was in the moment.

ARW: Yes, and more and more kids are being stripped of their ability to take risks and figure out conflicts, which leads to them not knowing how to. I came across a great article recently called “The Overprotected Kid”. In The Atlantic. There’s a line that describes well what I think is happening in child-rearing, “the erosion of child culture.”

As much as I am inspired by Wiseman and the Maysles, I’m inspired by Cassavetes. Love Streams and A Woman Under the Influence as by Gimme Shelter and High School. Cassavetes is my model for showing people honestly. Perhaps there’s a link between the erosion of child culture and the erosion of independent cinema. Films are less wild, less messy, less alive and energetic. More documentarians should take cues from Cassavetes and less from advertising and grant qualifiers.

T/F: It’s interesting how much Cassavetes influences documentary. His work always seems to come up . . .

ARW: I feel like Cassavetes and the Maysles are soul sisters, two sides of a coin. Another of my influences on this movie was the Dardenne brothers. Have you seen Les Fils (The Son)? So much woodworking in that film. And a central man/boy relationship.

So, getting back to your question, what I hope is true about the movie is the depiction of childhood, in this full, vital, energetic, Cassavetes inspired way.

What’s false? I tried to be as true to what I saw as possible. But, of course, what I hope everyone knows, I was only there on certain days, I only captured when I hit record, and we edited.

But I feel the story is the story of the year. I think we accomplished realizing that.

T/F: What effect did you think the camera had on what was going on?

ARW: Not much. Because I was there from the first day, I was taken as a part of the community. I find if you relax and don’t get in the way, people relax. Being a one-person band helps (I did camera and sound). I tried not to be a dominating personality over the kids, and I think they accepted me among them because of that.

Lucy especially was very comfortable from the get-go in part I think because her mother is an avid photographer, so Lucy was accustomed to a camera in her face. Lucy would say to new students, “That’s Amanda, don’t look at her camera, she just wants us to act natural.”

T/F: Haha.

ARW: They picked it up quickly. Kids in general are less self-conscious than adults.

T/F: It was really fascinating to see Alex, an adult, get pulled into all of the conflict between the kids because of the nature of the school?

ARW: Well, it was his school as much as theirs. One of my favorite scenes is the meeting where Lucy and Alex are debating whether Alex should be allowed to make safety decisions by himself or if they should be voted on democratically. More specifically, whether Alex telling Lucy to not jump off a high storage bin was harassment. I love it because they both take the meeting so seriously. Lucy holds her ground against Alex and Alex treats her with complete respect while at the same time stating his points. They’re complete equals. And after the meeting, they go about their ways and are cordial.

How conflict is resolved between Lucy and Alex and between Jio and Alex is, of course, very different. And between Lucy and Jio. The trio was so fascinating. I felt so lucky to have not just one but three incredible people, and the dynamics between them, to focus on.

T/F: When I talked with Robert (Approaching the Elephant editor Robert Greene) he said that the decision to use black and white made the story feel more timeless. Could you talk about that decision?

ARW: While I was editing, before Robert came on as a collaborator, I’d now and then throw the material in black and white. The editing always seemed to just come together more naturally that way. I think it has something to do with going with the elemental, pure nature of the story. It looks so beautiful in black and white, like it could be from any time.

T/F: Yeah, the conflict really feels elemental.

ARW: Yeah, it highlights for me how it’s about social dynamics, personality, people’s faces . . . I think that’s all I have to say about it. It was a pretty intuitive choice.

ATE-JIO (1)

Jio in Approaching the Elephant

Posted April 12, 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 April 10, 2014

‘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 Photo Team Favorites

Our photography team worked long hours preserving striking images from True/False 2014. The full fruits of their labor are on display in our photo albums for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with even more pictures available in our Facebook photo albums.

We asked the members of the team to send in two favorites from the pictures they took at the festival. Their picks can be found below under each photographer’s name, which also serves as a link to their personal website. There you can explore their non-T/F work or even contact them about documenting your own events.

Derek Jenkins

by Derek Jenkins

 

DerekJenkins3

 

Kevin Dingman

KevinDingmanfav

 

KevinDingman2fav

 

Quint Smith

QuintSmithFav1

 

QuintSmithFav2

 

Roxi Pop

RoxiPop-p4

 

RoxiPop-p8

 

Sarah Hoffman

SarahHoffman-TrueFalseBlog02

SarahHoffmanTrueFalseBlog09

 

Xiaojie Ouyang

Xiaojie OuyangFav1

 

Xiaojie OuyangFav2

Posted March 18, 2014

True/False 2014 Press Clippings

This post is our collection of our favorite press coverage of True/False 2014. We’ll be adding more to it in the weeks ahead, as the articles continue to come in.

Lauren Sandler at the New York Times reported on our unique relationship with The Crossing, the Columbia Church which sponsors our True Life Fund.

Actress director Robert Greene wrote a piece in Filmmaker Magazine about debuting films at True/False, and our decision not to publicize screenings as “premieres”.

Local NPR affiliate KBIA talked with T/F education coordinator Polina Malikin about our educational program which introduces area high school students to documentary all school year long.

Noel Murray at The Dissolve looks at fact and fiction at True/False 2014. “True/False has built a reputation over its first decade of existence as one of the world’s more innovative, well-curated documentary festivals. That’s because True/False holds to a loose definition of what documentary means, making room for narrative features with documentary qualities, and non-fiction films that use expressive, fiction-like techniques.”

Eric Hynes wrote about the many “blurred lines” of True/False in an elegant piece for Moving Image Source. “Considering the dwindling theatrical market for documentaries, it’s hard to overestimate how important it is for a formally frisky filmmaker to be celebrated at a fest like True/False, to have his or her odd ducklings prized by and puzzled over by packed houses of doc-smart Midwesterners.”

Robert Green wrote a piece at Sight & Sound about True/False’s “slash mentality” and the “unclean cinema” we champion, including T/F 2013′s controversial film The Act of Killing. Don’t forget to check out the excellent video at the bottom!

Nick Pinkerton also covered the Fest for Sight & Sound, considering this year’s program as part of a changing landscape in documentary film. “There is a feeling of giddy upheaval in documentary, no longer aesthetically the redheaded stepchild of fiction.”

Ben Sachs reported on T/F 2014 for MUBI’s Notebook, highlighting the way the Fest melds with the city of Columbia. “The theme of True/False seems to be that nonfiction cinema, which takes its subject matter directly from life, is better-suited than other forms when it comes to ingratiating itself with the world at large.”

Sam Adams at Criticwire went meta, asking about what it means for T/F to pay for travel and lodging for critics covering the Fest. He also introduced the new video of “The Critical Takedown” panel, which he moderated.

Paul Dallas at indieWIRE wrote about the community ethos that makes True/False possible. “True/False has evolved in just over a decade from a rough-hewn upstart into a destination festival and arguably one of the most vital and exciting platforms for documentaries in North America. And it’s achieved this precisely by sticking to what it does best: making it all fun.”

Vadim Rizov of Filmmaker Magazine published two T/F diaries covering a selection of this year’s films. In the first, he looks at Approaching the Elephant, which “works as a parodic demonstration of a nascent democracy, as a portrait of feckless youth, and a study in how charismatic jerks abuse their leeway”, Demonstration,  which he argues “finds middle ground between unflappable activist zeal and reactionary scorn” and the “hypnotic reverie” of Sacro GRA. In the second, he considers the “collaborative psychodrama” of Actress, Killing Time, “a patiently infuriating chronicle of Texas at its racially polarized worst”, and Boyhood, where “pain is quick, introduced early, fleetingly formative and not forgotten”.

Vadim also appeared in this video, getting together with three other film critics over drinks at Broadway Brewery. The foursome chatted about their favorite T/F 2014 films, The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga, Killing Time, Manakamana and Dusty Stacks of Mom, in this video created by Kevin Lee for Fandor.

Paige Pritchard at The Riveter wrote about five inspirational women at True/False, filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos of Rich Hill, subject Fabiola Gianotti of Particle Fever, musician MNDR, T/F design master Camellia Cosgray and musician and community space coordinator Emily Downing.

And finally, KBIA’s True/False Conversations returned with another series of short chats with T/F filmmakers, available to either read or download as a podcast. In this series:

Jessica Oreck discusses The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga

Dora Garcia discusses The Joycean Society

Amanda Rose Wilder discusses Approaching the Elephant

Nadav Schirman discusses The Green Prince

Robert Greene discusses Actress

Ryan Murdock discusses Bronx Obama

Maxim Pozdorovkin and Tony Gerber discuss The Notorious Mr. Bout

Joe Callander discusses Life After Death

Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez discuss Manakamana

Daniel Vernon discusses Miraculous Tales

Kit Gruelle discusses Private Violence

Kitty Green discusses Ukraine is Not a Brothel

David Kaplan and Mark Levinson discuss Particle Fever

Jaap van Hoewijk discusses Killing Time

 

 

Posted March 11, 2014

True/False 2014 Fest Digest: Day Four

True/False 2014 has come and gone. The four days always seem to fly by like a heady whirlwind, leaving us dizzy and happy with too many experiences. We hope that you too left T/F 2014 with a wealth of ideas and impressions, enough to unpack and reinterpret throughout the months until we all come together again.

Sunday was yet another day stuffed to the brim with True/False. We brushed off a bit of snow and ice and pressed ahead with a plethora of screenings and events. Below we’ll recap just a few of the amazing things that happened on the final day of True/False 2014.

For us in the middle of the Fest, aiming a year’s worth of brainstorming, planning and production at just four days makes for an unusual feeling. It may be similar to what filmmakers experience while screening their films at T/F, watching as years of their life and work are condensed into mere minutes of images projected on a screen. For this reason, it’s more than fitting that the final installment of Jarred Alterman’s Magic/Realism focuses the role of hard-earned craft in the art of stage magic. “You may spend ten hours on something that takes thirty seconds”, magician Steve Ferris remarks. “But for those thirty seconds, you’re doing the impossible.”

At the Odd Fellows Lodge, Sunday began with the Weird Wake-Up, a breakfast where Fest-goers wipe the sleep from their eyes and refuel their bodies for the home stretch.

weirdwakeuproxipop

photo by Roxi Pop

After chowing down, the crowd headed into the theater for Dusty Stacks of Mom, experimental animator Jodie Mack’s journey through the clutter left in her mom’s out-of-business poster shop. Mack sang her reimagined and relyriced version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon live from the back of the theater as a cascade of images danced across the screen. When the performance ended, the crowd expressed their appreciation with a roaring ovation. A giddy Mack explained how she sees the piece as being in part about culture’s continual reappropriation of ubiquitous images, making the pairing with Floyd’s iconic album apropos.

photo by Corey Ransberg

photo by Corey Ransberg

At the Missouri Theatre, Sunday afternoon featured a screening of Happy Valley, the new film from this year’s True Vision Award honoree, Amir Bar-Lev. This work is a thoughtful examination of the culture surrounding Penn State football in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. On stage after the film, Bar-Lev talked about how we all use narratives to construct an identity and what happens when a whole town is forced to reexamine how it sees itself.

photo by Sarah Hoffman

photo by Sarah Hoffman

Early in the afternoon,  Samuel James and Les Trois Coups played a raucous free show before a packed house at Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream, one of downtown CoMo’s hippest hang-outs.

©Derek Jenkins for True/False Film Fest 2014

photo by Derek Jenkins

The Fest concluded with a variety of events at our three biggest venues. At the Missouri Theatre, a crowd gathered to watch The Overnighters, which chronicles the startling consequences when a North Dakota pastor allows homeless men to sleep in his church. After the film, director Jesse Moss talked about adding a surprising final revelation to a work he thought was already near completion.

photo by Roxi Pop

photo by Roxi Pop

At the Vimeo Theater at The Blue Note, the Racso Party gave T/F attendees a chance to check-in on a very prestigious ceremony where movie types give each other small, but surprisingly heavy statues.

photo by Derek Jenkins

photo by Derek Jenkins

And at Jesse Auditorium, our official closing night film was a one time only screening of a truly singular work. Director Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a work of fiction, depicting an adolescence in 21st century Texas from age 5 to 17. The film’s remarkable 12-year production allows you to see the actors grow and change along with their characters. After a rapturous 162-minutes of cinema, Fest co-director David Wilson was joined on stage by producer Cathleen Sutherland and star Ellar Coltrane, who spent his own boyhood playing the film’s main character, Mason. Coltrane spoke about collaborating each year with Linklater on the screenplay, a process which caused him to grow closer to closer to Mason. He also talked about his real relationship with his on-screen father Ethan Hawke.

photo by Quint Smith

photo by Quint Smith

Back at the Missouri Theatre we all huddled together in the lobby for the always bittersweet Busker’s Last Stand. The Schlafly flowed as the music opened with supergroup Chimney Choir/Les Trois Coups/Raya Brass Band along with rotating, quickfire performances by Toughcats and Yes Ma’am.

photo by Corey Ransberg

photo by Corey Ransberg

For those of us who stayed up way too late, comedian Dave Hill hosted the first ever edition of Toasted at Cafe Berlin. This late-night talk show featuring buzzed conversations with T/F filmmakers alongside musical performances. In the appropriately raw excerpt below, Dave chats with Kitty Green of Ukraine is Not a Brothel and Maxim Pozdorovkin of The Notorious Mr. Bout ahead of a performance by Yes Ma’am.

The final video from Tiny Attic 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.

Try as we might, there’s just no way to express the gratitude we feel for the dedicated staff, volunteers, sponsors, guests and patrons who continue to make this whole thing possible. What do you say we do it all again next year? True/False returns March 5-8, 2015!

Posted March 3, 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.

tlfquintsmith

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.

taylorrossjuniperandfynn

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.

miraculoustalespicturehousesarahhoffman

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 Zero

Welcome to the True/False Film Fest 2014 Fest Digest! Here we’ll be gleefully taking on the impossible task of recapping the Fest, collecting stories, photos, videos along the way. Don’t forget to check back in, we’ll have a post each morning to help you relive the day that was.

It’s both marvelous and tragic that there’s just too much True/False to go around, and no way for any one consciousness to process it all. This digest, like all of you, will be plotting its own idiosyncratic course through the maze of music, art, panels, parties and cinema stretched out before us.

The theme of True/False 2014 is “Magic/Realism”. This alignment of words and symbols is perhaps a bit cryptic. One way we like to read it is as Magic sitting atop Realism, the fantastic’s victory over the mundane. Central to this conquest is the transformation of downtown Columbia, a place familiar to many of us, into somewhere very different for these four weird days. This was affected by the Herculean efforts of the T/F production team, numerous visiting and local artists and hundreds upon hundreds of T/F volunteers. Films will be playing at nine different locations, all within walking distance of one another downtown. All around and in-between you’ll find numerous art installations and surprises.

Our box office is always a central hub of True/False, where you’ll find tickets, merch and much more. This year it’s located at the corner of Hitt and Broadway. Artists Sabrina Braden and Sasha Goodnow reimagined this space as a Victorian-era parlor, cozy yet off kilter. As it opened for hustle and bustle of pass holder pick up, you could feel in the air that the T/F is finally here.

T/F 2014, Box Office, Pass Opening,

photo by Derek Jenkins

Most of our theaters are ephemeral, sliding in and out of existence with the Fest. For example, the ballroom of Columbia’s most prominent building, the Tiger Hotel, once-more became the metallic woodland of the Forrest Theater, so named for Forrest Rose, a well-loved Columbia columnist and stand-up bass player who we lost much too soon.

forrest

photo by Quint Smith

The major exception is Ragtag Cinema, downtown CoMo’s 365-day-a-year movie theater. Ragtag is our other half, a conjoined twin sharing numerous vital organs, including its dedicated staff and loyal patrons. Its two screens are located in the building now known as “Hittsville”, the home it shares with Uprise Bakery, Ninth Street Video and Hitt Records.

It was here our Neither/Nor series got underway for its second year. This program, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is an ongoing collaboration with a visiting film critic to map a history of “chimeric” cinema, films which defy classification as either fiction or documentary. This year Godfrey Cheshire is introducing four meta-cinematic Iranian films from the 1990s. He wrote an excellent limited edition monograph, available for free at the Ragtag box office, which skillfully situates these works within the broader history of Iran and its cinema.

IMG_4829

photo by Derek Jenkins

The first film in the series to screen was Close-Up, Abbas Kiarostami’s 1990 masterpiece built around the true story of a man arrested for impersonating filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

T/F 2014, Big Ragtag, Neither/Nor, AMPAS

photo by Derek Jenkins

After the film, Godfrey told the incredible story of how he was instrumental in getting the Iranian government to allow Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry to screen at Cannes, where it went on to win the Palme d’Or. He also talked about his visits to Iran, where conversations with Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf led him to see Close-Up‘s reconstructed reality as a “series of bamboozlements” by Kiarostami.

Later on, our music program began with a blast of punk rock at the hip downtown hangout Eastside Tavern. The first of 13 T/F music showcases featured performances from Fliight, Bruiser Queen, Comfort Zone and New Tongues.

T/F 2014, Eastside, New Tongues

photo by Derek Jenkins

Now the real excitement begins and we can’t wait to share it all with you. See you downtown and let the Magic/Realism commence!

Posted February 27, 2014

True/False 2014 Apps

Taking your smartphone or tablet to the Fest? We’ve got a few apps that you’ll definitely want to check out. Our Android and iPhone apps, now revamped for 2014, offer newsfeed updates, film descriptions, the schedule and an interactive map. And new this year, our “don’t Fest alone” group scheduling app lets you coordinate your Fest with multiple other pass holders. We’ve worked out the bugs, so come check them out!

Posted February 26, 2014
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