Updates

A Conversation with Filmmaker Robert Greene About ‘Actress’ and ‘Approaching the Elephant’

Robert Greene’s films have played at two previous editions of True/False. In 2010 he presented Kati With an I, an intimate look at the final days of an Alabama teenager’s childhood. In 2011 he returned with Fake It So Real, which follows a ragtag group of wrestlers pursuing their dreams in working-class North Carolina.

I recently got the chance to speak with Robert about two new films which will be unveiling at True/False 2014. His new film Actress is a unique collaboration with Brandy Burre, who played political operative Theresa D’Agostino on the unbelievably great television series The Wire. The film follows Brandy’s attempt to reenter the world of acting after starting a family in Beacon, New York. We also spoke about Approaching the Elephant, which Greene edited in collaboration with director Amanda Rose Wilder. This observational film follows two children and their school director during the first year of an anarchist “free school” where all classes are voluntary, and children and teachers have equal say.

-Dan Steffen

T/F: Could you start with how you decided to make a film about Brandy?

RG: I know Brandy really well. She’s my next door neighbor; we take care of each other’s children. She’s also one of the most theatrical people I’ve ever met in my life. She’s a really flamboyant personality, with a deep, gritty sense of self as well.

I’ve been writing and thinking about the idea of performance in documentary for awhile. It’s there in Kati With an I and especially Fake It So Real, where the wrestlers are performers and you’re seeing them perform themselves. So I had this idea of filming a direct cinema portrait of an actress living her life, being a mother. What effects would that have for the camera?

I like to get involved when I can see a narrative forming, which in this case was Brandy trying to get back into acting. In the movie she tells the story about how she got out of acting, about being a woman in her late thirties who couldn’t get a part for her age. That was a really clear starting point; I don’t think I’d ever heard that story before.

So I knew we had a beginning and this formal idea about watching a performance in a documentary. We started filming, and nothing much was happening at first. Then she went through something, a transformation, that I don’t want to spoil. It became the real narrative of the movie. The filming suddenly jived with what was going on in her life outside of the filming, and they became one thing. It was uncomfortable and scary and not something that we ever expected. But we latched on to it and took it where it needed to go. There were weird twists and turns, and things I couldn’t have imagined being present for.

It’s a little bit of a cliche to say that I consider her more of a collaborator than a subject, but it’s really true. What we were giving each other was really direct and interesting. And because we were so close already, it became really intense.

IN MIRROR W CURLERS

T/F: The film raises the question of the performed vs. the actual. Could you explain how that tension played out through the process of making Actress?

RG: What Brandy says is she’s not acting like an actor, she is an actor. When you turn a camera on her, she’s been trained to be an actor. She just is a theatrical person, who naturally wants to express herself through her language and her body. So it’s not like she’s turning it on and turning it off. There are degrees of who she’s being.

We did everything that most documentaries do. I would ask her to say things again. I would say, “give me a second while I get into position”. Or I would say, “hey, when are these things happening? Let’s get together and film.” That’s very much what every other documentary does, but generally they try to hide those things and give the impression that cameras are going 24/7 and they just happen to be capturing magic. Part of the formal idea is to say, hey, all documentaries are movies.

This is a very narrow version of the truth in many ways, but it is the truth. There were things that I wasn’t there for. There were things that I would never have recorded even if I was there. There are things that I know about that I would never put in the movie. So this is the very specific story that I wanted to tell, and she was willing to go along with me. But in terms of what’s 100% real and what’s not, it’s all an expression of reality. I want the audience to see these layers of reality as their watching, and to be questioning the film as well, to think about what documentaries really are doing and how they are constructed.

I also think that it says something about being a mother, being a wife, being a lover, being a passionate person. These are all social performances. We play these roles in society because it’s how we get by. Ironically, when Brandy tries to break through that, you see her performing herself. To me this says a lot about what we are. I don’t really know how to unpack it all completely, but I think it’s there for viewers to sort through.

T/F: One fascinating thing about how Actress is structured the film is how it changes, how it begins as direct cinema but mixes in these conspicuously composed shots and sequences.

RG: Yeah, one thing I was interested in doing is exploring the relationship between direct cinema and melodrama. Melodrama is this over-the-top expression of an idea. It’s inherently ironic. If you see the great Douglas Sirk films, there’s an ironic element to the drama and a distancing effect that actually elevates the emotion. You’re sort of pushed past the direct emotion and you get to this other formal level of over-the-top-ness. That was the idea, to get at the theatricality of performing yourself, the theatricality of everyday life and how we can make melodramas in our heads.

RED DRESS CLOSE

T/F: Let me ask you about Approaching the Elephant. How did you get involved in this project?

RG: Amanda has been making the film for a really long time. She’s a great filmmaker, she has a great eye for what she wants to capture. She spent a year in the life of this free school, and really captured the story through gestures and bodies and faces, the building blocks of cinema. But she got to a place where she wasn’t quite sure where to go next. The movie got into IFP labs twice over the years that she worked on it, which is a testament as to how good the material is. She just needed some help getting over the hump. I came on and I think was able to focus the film.

T/F: So how much material were you working with to cut down into the film as it exists now?

RG: She’s the only person who could know all of her footage, it would have taken me six months to really learn it all. She had a two and half hour cut before I came on. So we started by cutting it down from that. As we were shaping the film, she’d mention other cut scenes she’d like to get in there, material I didn’t even know about. She’d rely on me to figure out how to get these other scenes in. We would put them in, then take them back out. It was a lot moving pieces to get them in place.

T/F: Is it an intuitive process cutting a film down, or do you have clear ideas of themes you want to pick out?

RG: You need a director who you trust and who trusts you, that’s one thing. I think for me too, I’ve just done it so much, I’ve edited like 14 features. So, I think it just comes from sitting in dark rooms too much and watching too many films, you know rhythmically what it takes to tell a story. And I have a fondness for stories that develop organically. Instead of “we have to get this moment, and then now this other thing”, I just trust my instincts, and it becomes, “we need this feeling here” and “it’s great that that happens but it needs to feel differently”.

ATE-LUCY

T/F: What went into the decision to make the film black and white?

RG: We decided on black and white because we loved how “out of time” it made the film feel. It really is that simple. I feel like it elevates the story and makes everything cohere in a really nice, timeless way. As Amanda said, it’s easier to cut together when it’s black and white, because everything just makes more sense. It was a very intuitive decision. I believe we will have a color version as well at some point.

T/F: Could you introduce how you see the narrative elements in Approaching the Elephant a little?

RG: I think you spend the beginning of the film learning the rules of the place, which is cool, because the kids are learning the rules too. One of my favorite ways of narrative unfolding in a documentary is when you as a viewer feel like you’re on the same journey as the filmmaker. That’s how I hope Actress feels too. So, you’re thrown in the chaos and the mix, starting to pick up faces and meeting people. Then, suddenly, this narrative of the three main characters really grabs hold. It has one of the most dramatic last acts I can remember in a documentary, where on a totally small level you see these character’s faces and this story unfolding.

For me Approaching the Elephant is a movie about idealism meeting reality head on. That clash unfolds slowly at first. I think it’s the kind of movie that picks up momentum as you watch and gets you to a place you really didn’t expect to go.

ATE-JIO

Posted February 25, 2014

The Story Store is Coming to the T/F Box Office

Announcing The Story Store, a pop-up trading post that will take place during True/False 2014 at our box office, located at the corner of Hitt and Broadway. The store re-imagines the purchasing processes involved in our everyday experiences.

Here’s how it works. Participants contribute a small, meaningful object to The Story Store. Rather than selling it, they tell the story behind the object. They then have the chance to choose a story and object that resonates with them in exchange.

Take a story. Leave a story.

Emma Dessau and Andrew McFarland came up with the idea for The Story Store when they originally traveled cross-country producing Folk to Folk, a documentary project highlighting new and emerging traditions of folk music throughout the United States today. Folk to Folk created some amazing videos at T/F last year, and will be documenting the music of True/False again this year.

To get a better feel for The Story Store, visit the website to see objects and listen to stories already collected. For example, Nina from Brooklyn explains how she created a DIY deck of playing cards out of a used Metro Cards.

metro card

The Store will be open from 4 to 9 pm on Wednesday and from 11 am to 4 pm Thursday through Sunday. Be sure to check it out. And remember to bring a story to trade!

Posted February 24, 2014

Get Access to All T/F Concerts; Pick Up the Busker Band

New this year, True/False is offering access to all 13 of our music showcases with our $30 Busker Band. You’ll also get one ticket to a film. It works great on it’s own or as a compliment to a Simple Pass. Online sales end this Tuesday at 6 pm. Alternatively, you can pick one up at the merch table at our 2014 box office, located at the corner of Hitt and Broadway.

To help spread the word about our concerts, our music team created these cool new posters for the shows at Mojo’s, Cafe Berlin, The Blue Fugue, Eastside Tavern and Sparky’s.

concertposter

poster by Amanda Rainey

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Poster by Jeremy Morton

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Poster by Delia Rainey

poster by Justin Nardy

poster by Justin Nardy

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Be sure to note the latest edition to our 2014 music lineup, the energetic street performers Les Trois Coups. They were a huge hit when they first traveled from Paris to Columbia for T/F 2012, and this year will be a part of our concerts Saturday night at Cafe Berlin and Sunday afternoon at Sparky’s.

Posted February 23, 2014

True Life Fund Events

Announcing two special events in associated with the True Life Fund and our 2014 TLF film, Private Violence.

Friday 2/28

3-5 PM: Community Conversation and Training

Location: Palmer Room, Reynolds Journalism Institute, University of Missouri

This event, open to all, will bring together cross-sections of the community to discuss domestic violence. Kit Gruelle, the advocate featured in the True Life Fund film Private Violence will lead participants through clips of the film and host a discussion. The idea behind this discussion is to break down silos to better address this very private violence in our community.

The first 50 attendees at this event will receive a complimentary ticket to a screening of True Life Fund screening of Private Violence.

Sunday 3/2

3 PM- 4 PM: Community Conversation for Action

Location: Palmer Room, Reynolds Journalism Institute, University of Missouri

Join us on Sunday after the second and final screening of the True Life Fund film, Private Violence, for a chance to extend the conversation. The discussion will be guided and hosted by Kit Gruelle, an advocate featured in the film, True North of Columbia, and The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. We will begin where the film ends and focus on how to translate the momentum from Private Violence into community action.

tlf

Posted February 22, 2014

Calling All Students! Get a Free Taste of the Fest with T.G.I.T/F!

Introducing Thank Goodness It’s True/False! This is our new program for all High School and College students statewide. We invite you to try a taste of the fest on us!

The day starts with a free film and refreshments at the Missouri Theater, followed by art, music, and film workshops and events, and is topped off by a raucous downtown parade. All free. All just for you.

The Friday of the festival (February 28) is a Columbia Public High School teacher work day and students have the day off, so we’ve created a Friday full of free fun for students! We are even providing free bus transportation for all local CPS high schoolers (just fill out this form, and take it to your high school by the 25th). We also welcome all other students from high schools and colleges in our fair state. Grab your student ID and come on down!

10am: Doors open at the Missouri Theater. Come early for coffee, snacks, and live music.

11am: Particle Fever screens, followed by a conversation with our special guests: Mark Levinson, the film’s director, and David Kaplan, star of the film. (Film synopsis: Some of the world’s most savvy scientists guide us through the largest experiment in history, the Large Hadron Collider, which seeks to unlock the secrets of the cosmos).

1 – 5pm: Then, all afternoon, we have free music, art and film events just for students: workshops with local and visiting artists (make costumes and puppets for the parade, get a special public art tour, and meet with internationally acclaimed artists), meet and hear local and national musicians, and talk with filmmakers from around the world.

5:30pm: The day will end with the always fabulous March March parade.

For more info and to reserve your spot, sign up here: http://truefalse.org/educate/attend

We also offer informational presentations about the fest, classroom visits with festival guests, free and discounted tickets, field trips, year-round film education programs, work with the True Life Fund, and other meaningful volunteer work.

FUNDING PROVIDED BY THE BERTHA FOUNDATION

Posted February 20, 2014

The Gateway Packet is Now On Sale

The Gateway Packet for True/False 2014 is now on sale. For $35, Gateway lets you reserve three tickets to the select T/F 2014 screenings listed below. These screenings all take place during the festival, which runs from Thursday February 27th to Sunday March 2. You can get tickets for different screenings or three for the same screening. It’s up to you.

The first Gateway option is a film we’re sure will be a crowd-pleaser. Playing Thursday night at 7 at the Missouri Theatre, Jodorowsky’s Dune explores the attempt by cult-film director Alejandro Jodorowsky to adapt the classic sci-fi novel Dune, a colossally ambitious project that would have altered the history of cinema. Despite its failure, this project stands as an inspiring example of uncompromising artistic ambition. Director Frank Pavich and editor Alex Ricciardi will be on hand afterwards to tell the story behind this behind the scenes story.

Second is Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart on Friday evening at 7pm at Jesse Auditorium. This films revisits a story that captivated America in the early 90s, how a 22-year-old woman in small-town New Hampshire may have engineered the murder of her husband at the hands of her teenage student. The public’s interest in this scandal created an extraordinary media circus that ushered in the era of reality TV.

Director Jeremiah Zagar will be at Jesse to answer questions after the film. In the video below he explains his approach to the material.

Your next option is E-Team Saturday morning at 9:30 at Jesse. This film documents the heroic work of Human Right Watch’s Emergency-Team, which investigates crimes against humanity in some of the world’s most dangerous hot spots. Rob Nelson at Variety noted “The valiant and vital work of four globetrotting human rights activists is expertly illuminated in E-Team, a dynamic and immersive piece of you-are-there verite.”

Co-director Ross Kauffman will be on-hand Saturday morning to talk about this amazing production.

eteam

Next up it’s Tim’s Vermeer  at 12:15 Saturday afternoon at Jesse. Created by the magicians Penn and Teller, the film is about inventor Tim Jenison, whose insatiable curiosity led him to test a mind-blowing hypothesis about Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and his photo-realistic masterworks. Tim himself will be in attendance, who you can meet briefly in the film’s trailer below.

Saturday at 6 at the historic Missouri Theatre it’s Ukraine is Not a Brothel.  This film is a close study of Femen, the Ukranian feminist advocates known for topless protests and elaborate street theater. The story behind these controversial tactics is both complex and provocative. Director Kitty Green and Femen member Inna Shevchenko will be there for what is sure to be a lively Q and A. Check out the film’s very “Not Safe For Work” trailer below.

Saturday night at 9 Jesse you’ll have another chance to see Jodorowsky’s Dune.

At 9:30 Sunday morning back at the Missouri Theatre we have Big Men. This film gives an insider’s look at the political machinations in the oil-rich west coast of Africa. Over the course of seven years, director Rachel Boynton gained access to both boardroom executives and mask-wearing saboteurs, creating a work of sprawling ambition and scope. You’ll be able to ask her about it in person after the film.

bigmen

At 12:15 at the Missouri Theatre we’ll be giving our True Vision Award to director Amir Bar-Lev, before a screening of his new film Happy Valley, which explores the culture surrounding Penn State football and its reaction to the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse scandal. Matt Sandusky spoke about his father’s crimes for the first time as part of this film.

happyvalley

Or over at Jesse at 12:30, it’s our True Life Fund film Private Violence. This film powerfully takes on the hidden epidemic of domestic violence, debunking many harmful myths that surround this frequently taboo subject. We’re raising money for subjects Kit Gruelle and Deanna Walters, who along with director Cynthia Hill will be on hand to discuss this important topic.

The last film available in the Gateway Packet, playing at 3:15 Sunday at Jesse, is The Unknown Known, the new work from master documentarian Errol Morris, who’ll be Skyping with us after the screening. In it, Morris trains his formidable interview skills on former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The resulting exchange is a fascinating examination of the power of language.

The Gateway Packet is available for a limited time only, so make sure to pick one up soon. Or better yet, tell a friend about it today!

Posted February 18, 2014

Access All T/F Concerts with the Busker Band!

True/False may be a film festival, but we’re about more than just cinema. We’ve backed no less than 12 concerts into the four days of the Fest, plus a bonus show on True/False eve. These showcases take place a variety of Columbia’s coolest venues and feature a variety of musical styles. And if you want access to them all, we’ve created a new way to experience the Fest,   the Busker Band. For $30 you admission to all of music showcases, plus more. It works great on it’s own or as a compliment to a Simple Pass.

Among the shows you can catch is our True/Folk showcase on Thursday, the first night of T/F, at 7 at The Blue Fugue, featuring Foundry Field Recordings, Samuel James and The Flood Brothers.

Friday at 9 you swing by Cafe Berlin for Mountain Animation, Lonesome Leash, Yes Ma’am and first-time T/F performer Yva Las Vegass.

Saturday Night at 9:30 it’s Mojo’s A-Go-Go, where you can dance the night away in a synth-pop trance provided by SpaceIsThePlace, Née and MNDR.

And Sunday afternoon at 2 you can pick up a scoop Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream and watch the talented singer-songwriter Samuel James.

These are just a few of the concerts we have on offer. Be sure to check out the concerts page for the rest. And bear in mind that if you do decide on a  Busker Band, you’ll get all of the following:
  • Admission to all T/F busker showcases and concerts
  • Admission to Busker’s Last Stand at the Missouri Theatre on Sunday night
  • One, non-transferable wristband that grants you admission to the events listed above
  • One movie voucher that can be exchanged for a screening ticket at the box office (starting at noon on Thursday, Feb. 27) or for admission via the Q line at Jesse Auditorium, Missouri Theatre or The Blue Note
  • If a showcase or concert reaches capacity, admission will be on a space-available basis
  • Does not include admission to screenings, parties, special events, or pre-screening busker performances

 

Posted February 14, 2014

The 2014 True Vision Award Goes to Amir Bar-Lev

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

Amir

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

fighter

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

mykidcouldpaintthat

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

the tillman story

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

happyvalley

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

 

 

Posted January 30, 2014

Akiko Stehrenberger’s Artwork at Hittsville

Hittsville (the shared home of Ragtag Cinema, Uprise Bakery, 9th Street Video and Hitt Records) will be hosting the work of Los Angeles-based artist Akiko Stehrenberger beginning on February 23rd and running through T/F 2014. 10% of the sales are going to our True Life Fund.

Akiko created the gorgeous illustration for this year’s T/F poster. She began her career in New York doing spot illustrations for publications such as SPIN and New York Press. Upon moving back to Los Angeles in 2004, she became an art director/designer for movie posters while illustrating for various types of other freelance projects. She is a three time Key Art/CLIO Award winner and a two time SXSW Best Film Poster Award winner, in addition to a multitude of other awards and accolades.

Check out a few of her posters below and browse many more at akikomatic.com.

FUNNYGAMES-new

ROOM237

kiss_of_the_damned-stehrenberger

Posted January 28, 2014

Private Violence is Our 2014 True Life Fund Film

The True/False Film Fest is proud to recognize Cynthia Hill’s Private Violence as this year’s recipient of the True Life Fund.

Private Violence focuses on Kit Gruelle, an advocate for survivors of domestic violence, and Deanna Walters, who is battling for justice after surviving horrific abuse at the hands of her former partner. The film exposes the complex obstacles that stand between a survivor of abuse and freedom, as well as dispels destructive myths about domestic violence. Private Violence shows that for survivors, the answer is rarely as simple as just walking away from their abuser.

The film is part of a larger media project focused on ending domestic violence against women through awareness and education.

The True Life Fund exists to support people who bravely and selflessly share their stories in documentary films. This year, the funds raised will be awarded to both Kit Gruelle and Deanna Walters, who represent ideal recipients. We’ll be working extensively director Cynthia Hill to raise money and conduct outreach.

Private Violence is the eighth True Life film since the fund began in 2007. The U.K.-based Bertha Foundation provides a matching grant for the grassroots fundraising effort. We’re also grateful for the continued partnership with The Crossing, who will be sponsoring the True Life Fund this year for the seventh time.

 

 

Posted January 23, 2014
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