True/False is excited to announce that I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO will play at True/False 2017. Just nominated for an Oscar in the Best Feature Documentary category, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO is an elegant appreciation of the brilliant and prophetic 20th century author James Baldwin.
In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends—Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript.
Now, in his incendiary new documentary, filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished. The result is a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin’s original words and flood of rich archival material. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of Black Lives Matter. It is a film that questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond. And, ultimately, by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassination of these three leaders, Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges the very definition of what America stands for.
Producer Hébert Peck will be attending True/False 2017 with the film.
In 2016, we introduced a new aspect of our growing transmedia program, an immersive storytelling experience known as LOST LETTERS.
Building on that first foray, reimagined to tie into the 2017 fest visual theme of “Out of the Ether,” True/False proudly announces ELEMENTAL. While LOST LETTERS went hyper-narrative and flavored the world of live immersive theater with escape-room puzzles, ELEMENTAL will take fest-goers to a minimalist, language-free world through a deconstructed adventure about the building blocks of matter.
Once again, groups of up to eight people will be given one hour to explore and solve puzzles. With ELEMENTAL, however, the space begins as one big empty white room. Spare, wide open, but full of hidden wonder.
Due to the intimate nature of the experience, reservations for ELEMENTAL are ultra-limited. Tickets are $35 for all passholders and non-passholders alike. Ticket purchasers will be able to reserve a time slot to attend for a specific hour. The event will run nine times per day on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of True/False (March 3-5). Time slots may be selected starting at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13, following the announcement of the film schedule. As this is a team event, attendees are welcome to sign up with friends or will work as a team with others who have chosen the same time slot.
ELEMENTAL pulls together much of the same technical team that helped make LOST LETTERS a success, including art direction from Mid-Continental Art Collective, sound design by Tim Pilcher, lighting design from Taylor Shaw and electronics and 3D fabrication by Ben Harris. Puzzle design comes from Jon Westhoff with help from Connor Hickox and Josh & Gary Oxenhandler.
ELEMENTAL is produced as a partnership between True/False and Breakout Como, the city’s premier escape-room facility, located at 218 N. Eighth St. in downtown Columbia. For further ticketing details and sales, visit our passes page.
The indomitable Rainey family, featured in the new film Quest, have been selected as 2017’s True Life Fund recipients. The fund, True/False’s yearly philanthropic initiative, serves as a tangible way of thanking documentary subjects.
“The True Life Fund represents us completing a circuit,” T/F co-director David Wilson says. “The film subjects share their stories, and this is a small way to repay that gift.”
The Raineys’ home studio acts as a creative space and community refuge in North Philadelphia. Christopher “Quest” Rainey hosts Friday night recording sessions and mentors artists in the community. His wife, Christine’a, a.k.a. “Ma Quest,” works at a local homeless shelter.
Quest was shot by director Jon Olshefski over the course of a decade, bookended by the elections of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. We witness the Raineys raise their children, PJ and William, while working to transform their community.
What starts as a tender portrait of an American family undergoes a slow-burn transformation into a stunning look at race, class, and community. With the country’s turmoil ever-present but muted, Quest is a testament to love, healing, and hope.
Last summer, the film was fine-tuned at the Rough Cut Retreat, organized by T/F and the Catapult Film Fund. Now, Quest is set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival before coming to True/False. The film is Olshefski’s stunning nonfiction feature debut.
The Rainey family and Olshefski will attend all of the screenings at True/False. Before the fest, Olshefski will visit all of Columbia’s four public high schools. At each school, students will watch clips of the film and engage in discussion with the director.
True/False 2017 marks the 10th year of The Crossing church’s sponsorship of the True Life Fund. The Crossing has committed to continuing to sponsor the fund for the next five years. The True Life Fund itself comprises thousands of individual gifts, matched through a generous grant from the Bertha Foundation. In 2017, True/False aims to raise more than $25,000 for the Rainey family. To give, visit www.truelifefund.org, text any amount to (573) 818-2151, or donate at the True/False screenings.
In 2016, Sonita Alizadeh, the star of the film Sonita, was the recipient of the True Life Fund, which raised $43,500 to underwrite her music aspirations and ongoing campaign against child marriage.
The True/False Film Fest will take place March 2-5 in downtown Columbia, Missouri.
Our generous friends over at the Blue Note gifted us with four tickets to Andrew Bird on January 16th, which means we’re giving away a ticket a day to four lucky pass purchasers. With your purchase of a Lux Pass (or higher!), you’ll be entered to win a FREE ticket Andrew Bird at the Blue Note! Act fast, we’ve only got four tickets and four days. Winners will be notified January 14th, 6pm. Comment on our Facebook if you purchased a pass (today-Saturday) and want a ticket to the ingenious Mr. Bird.
We’re taking our nonfiction showcase on the road! True/False presents a special screening of Thy Father’s Chair at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago for one night only: Wednesday, January 4, 2017. As with all of T/F’s film events, the stage is set with a band: the wide-ranging Mar Caribe will play at 7pm. Then stay for one of 2016’s best documentaries (and T/F ’16 alum) THY FATHER’S CHAIR beginning at 7:30pm followed by a post-film conversation with director Antonio Tibaldi.
A chamber piece par excellence, Thy Father’s Chair profiles aging twins Abraham and Shraga, forced to open their derelict Brooklyn apartment to professional cleaners. The crew turn out to be counselors of the higher order who seek to rescue the brothers from themselves. Both wry and warm-hearted, Thy Father’s Chair has a clear-eyed appreciation for life’s contradictions. Plays with “Balloonfest” (dir. Nathan Truesdell, 6 min.) in which civic pride comes untethered.
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.
Boone Dawdle 2016 fundraiser for True/False Film Festival. Photo by Stephen Bybee for True/False.
Bill and Turner Ross, two brothers from Ohio who now call New Orleans home, drove five states north to join T/F for one hot summer afternoon. The Ross brothers’ third feature film, Contemporary Color, was featured at T/F’s annual Boone Dawdle, a bike ride and blufftop screening along the Missouri River. Contemporary Color finds creative ways to document an unusual concert of new, original songs written for the nation’s top color guards, organized by David Byrne (Talking Heads). T/F’s Allison Coffelt sat down with the filmmakers while they were in Columbia.
True/False: Can you talk a bit about the decisions you made when you were thinking about how to approach this project as a version of a concert doc, or an event film? It’s not oriented around a single person’s experience or following one person through; how did you come to the structure you have?
Turner Ross: You’re working with David Byrne who’s responsible for one of the greatest concert films of all time. You don’t want to just delve back into that straightforward approach. Nor did we want to make a emotional journey you know, with one character– let’s isolate this person– because it was such a collective experience: the musicians, the stagehands, the kids on the floor, our team making the movie. It was such an egalitarian experience where everybody was involved and everybody was invested. So, to truly isolate any of those one things for too long– I think what would would have WEIGHTED it down, and really would have done an injustice to the actual experience of being there.
And so we chose to take vignettes, little pieces of those things, and share them, and sort of ride the currents of these experiences. So you can have this emotional uplift with music, or you can have this emotional uplift with a character who goes through this valley with somebody, but it’s quick and passing. The music is fluid, these interactions are fluid and allowed us to go into these kids’ heads for a brief period of time, but then also to be present.
Our inspirations for this thing, although they sound comical, really did feed into what we wanted to do, which is things like professional wrestling from the ‘80s where you’d have these really heavy-handed narratives, but you’d only have a little bit each time you went to the show– you know, just be a little piece of the narrative, and so if you dropped into that world that was just crazy; or “The Muppet Show” when you go backstage with Kermit and he’s just frazzled and doesn’t know what to do, and then all of a sudden you’re with Statler and Waldorf up in the stands, and then all of a sudden you’re on stage and then maybe you’re in the audience blowing yourself up. It’s just all these little pieces moving around—
Bill Ross: This was our actual pitch to David–
TR: –Who was totally into it! (laughter). He was the first person to ever say, “guys that sounds great; your rambling nonsense is good stuff!” But we love that in those environments that you are completely welcomed in, absorbed and sucked into the life and current of these moving spaces. And that’s what we wanted. We didn’t want to create this artificial structure; it already has a structure. You’re already in the space for this period of time, and we wanted to allow that to happen, but also to drift in and out.
T/F: I wanted to ask you about how you made editorial decisions about the drifting. For instance, I noticed sometimes we would meet someone, like a musician, and then we would see a couple of songs. Then, maybe three acts later, their song would come on. What were you looking for when you looked at different pieces?
BR: Well, anything that we do is to present the feeling that we had while we were there. So wandering those hallways, you would bump into people throughout the show. We didn’t want to set it up in the film like, “Okay here’s this guy, and then we’re going to see them perform and that’ll be that.” They are existing just as we are and we’re all floating through the space.
Editorially, we really fell in love with all these folks, and we wanted to continually pop in and see them, and see, where are they now? Are they up in the stands watching? Are they In the back goofing off? We wanted this very circular thing.
TR: It’s kind of a stream of consciousness narrative rather than a predictable one, because the problem with the show, and then the interludes, and moving in-and-out is: if you started to develop a consistency, you start to develop an expectation, which just took you out of it. If we showed a performer and then the performance, showed a performer then the performance, it could just become really tedious. As frustrating as it can be to occasionally pull away from a song or wonder where the hell this is going, it’s like, well, you can go anywhere you want and try to create some unpredictability so this is a journey in which you can be surprised.
T/F: I really like the idea of having the viewer go on the same journey that you’re on as you’re doing it. Of making it experiential and having the viewing experience mimic the actual experience.
BR: I mean, we all work in the same office in New Orleans, and you’re sitting there watching a performance and you’re like, “I wonder what Ad-Rock is up to right now? I would love to come backstage and see what he’s doing”, and so we shot it like that. Those options could be had and so that’s the way the film was cut.
TR: We had an interesting conversation a couple weeks ago –we were at an event on a panel of people who want to talk about VR, virtual reality– whether that’s the death of what we’re doing, and all of that. This is kind of our own virtual reality experience.
What would happen if you dropped yourself in the space? Where would you go? Where would you look? What would you want to do? For me the difference between the two is, yeah, you could put on a headset and fly into this room and move around space at will, but the actual experience of being there and really feeling the energy of the space, getting to know these people, and feeling it out really dictated the way that we constructed the film, the choices that we made and certain rhythms we adhered to. It is different. You really that like the sense of being in that space with these people, and the emotional kineticism of the space. It was something that stuck with us for a long time and really dictated how we did things.
T/F: How would you describe the feeling of being in that space in that moment, personally?
TR: It was awesome. It’s a stupid word, but—(laughter), but in the real sense, it was awesome. We make these small movies together. We go out in the world with our little cameras, and the two of us and sort of recklessly find things that we like. And in this experience we were in the f***ing Barclay Center with complete control of everything. And a team working around us, and permission to do everything. That permission was access to this incredible event where you have hundreds of kids for whom this might as well be the Olympics. It’s the same energy, the same emotional outpouring- they’re invested, they’re waving flags at the Barclay center…that’s insane! People are paying attention to them and it’s not piped-in music on stage– it’s St. Vincent, it’s David Byrne. So you think of how these people were feeling, and the response the give and take. And just having access to be able to float around that world. Aside from what we do, my favorite spaces is dream space. You can do anything you want there. You can create anything you want, and this was a situation where we were very much in that dream space. We had everything at our disposal and this wild universe was swirling around us. We had all the tools in which we could say: “Send the people this direction, send the people that direction. I’m gonna go climb up on stage right now.” Just kind of drifting through and allowing everybody to be themselves and capture this environment. It was profoundly emotional for me. What about you Bill?
BR: Well, I’ve never been in the circus but I would imagine this was fairly close to what that experience must be like. It was very athletic; we played sports growing up and it felt like a lot of nervous energy– you have one shot to perform, to do well, to kill it. And that was on the kids. That was on the musicians. That was on us, making the film. So there is this very heightened sense-of-being for three hours, and when it’s all over everyone rushed backstage. It was this outpouring of emotion because we had all pulled off the show. There was a lot of hugging, the kids were crying, we were high-fiving and talking about what we’re gonna do after the fact and it was just… Like the next day I remember like we all woke up and started texting each other just like: I’m so sad, like profoundly sad, like summer camp was over. This great journey that we’d all gone on –a very intense journey we’d all gone on– was now over, and it sort of felt like a very, very bizarre dream. I think that’s what we had hoped the the film would feel like as well. I think it does. I think we made what we wanted to make anyway; I hope it comes across.
If you missed it at the Dawdle, keep an eye out – Contemporary Color will be released by Oscilloscope in 2017.
You’ve seen the pictures. The numerous bike helmets, bright smiles, the big tree, the color guard…but this year, we captured the T/F Boone Dawdle another way. If you’ve never been, this offers a glimpse into the day’s events: the fun, the energy, and community. If you were there, this should help you reclaim a bit of that 2016 Dawdle delight. So, put on your headphones, take a sip of your Schlafly, close your eyes, and reminisce with us for the next 4 minutes:
If you missed seeing SHERPA at the 2016 festival, it is fittingly now widely available. Naturally, we strongly recommend watching it on the biggest screen you can find. I mean, we recommend that for most films, but this *IS* Everest after all – it deserves some breathing room. Missing our post-film director Q&As is another matter, but if you couldn’t connect with Jennifer Peedom at the fest, we can offer the next best thing – we had the fortunate opportunity to chat more in-depth with Jennifer about her stunning film. Watch, read, enjoy.
True/False:With the wild turns this story takes it is hard to imagine your vision of it at the beginning was anything like it was at the end. How did this project first began?
Jennifer Peedom: I had worked as camera operator on Everest on and off for over a decade. I had worked on three of the expeditions with the Sherpas at the heart of this film. And I became interested in how little of their story ended up in the mainstream Everest documentaries, much less the big Hollywood blockbusters version. Initially, Sherpas are incredibly reserved people. Since my first expedition where I did my own little film for a program here called Dateline. I guess I’ve always had this film bubbling around in my mind. In 2006 I went most of the way to the summit and seeing what really goes on, particularly on summit day, and what an extraordinary job the Sherpas have to do to get the climbers to the summit and back alive and the extent to which that narrative gets cut out of the story because it lessens the other narrative, the foreigners’ hero story narrative, it seemed like a real opportunity to make something.
So back to your question, the vision of the film I made was not that different from the vision we started with. I wanted to make a film about what really goes on on Everest. I wanted to make a film that spoke to the spirituality of the mountain and what the mountain means to the people and how their families feel about it and all those things that ended up in the film. The only difference is we no longer had a narrative of an ascent, instead we had a much more political film. We didn’t know that the worst disaster in the history of the mountain was going to happen while we were filming. It highlighted the risks I was trying to highlight in a way nothing else could.
I will say at the time we didn’t really know we had a film until I got home and spent a few weeks watching the rushes and also understanding the rushes. A lot of stuff, when you don’t have a translator on the ground you don’t understand everything that’s being said. So it took awhile to figure out the story we had.
T/F:Part of what is fascinating to me about this story is that the spiritual and the commercial aspects of Everest are so intertwined, on both sides, for both the Sherpas and the tourists, and you can’t really pick them apart.
JP: Yeah, I think one thing that really struck a cord about the film, a comment I’ve heard that I’ve liked is that it is so morally complex. It doesn’t take the high ground. At the end of the film we’re not saying necessarily don’t climb Everest. In fact the Sherpas need the foreigners and the foreigners need the sherpas. So it’s this mutually complicated, very tricky relationship. It’s two cancelled seasons in a row and it’s not clear how that situation is going to play out. The sherpas have had very little income for that time on top of the fact that most of their houses have been destroyed or badly damaged by the earthquake. Phurba Tashi himself has been really struggling. They need Everest to continue, but what they learned when they cancelled the season is that they have more power than they realized. And so whether or not people should climb Everest I’d just hope that they’d watch the film. One thing I found strange about the whole Everest thing is the extent to which you can bury your head in the sand. So one thing I’d ask if you were going to climb Everest is to be aware of what you’re asking other people to do, the risks you’re asking them to take on your behalf.
T/F:Can you tell me some about the logistics of filming a movie on Everest?
JP: In some ways it is so well set up over there. There’s so many crews on Everest, and over the years systems have been developed. It kind of makes it easier than you might think, than going into some foreign wilderness where no one has ever filmed before. The obvious logistics is getting a whole bunch of equipment to an isolated place. Part of the difficulty is getting crews that can handle the altitude. And that’s hard. It’s probably the reason I got all of those gigs a number of years ago. Not a lot of bodies can function well enough at altitude.
And then you’ve got the logistics, there’s no fixed structure at base camp, it’s just a tent city that springs up. There’s no power, so the really big challenge is keeping computers warm and batteries charged. most of that we do on solar power where we could and then use generators when we run out. Things like computers have to be put with hot water bottles into little sleeping bags every night. It just kind of goes with the territory. You get used to it and I had really hand picked a great team, including the great cinematographer Renan Ozturk, who’s also one of the subjects of Meru. He’s an amazing cinematographer. I also choose another cinematographer Hugh Miller. who I worked with on Everest Beyond the Limit who’s a real veteran, and has climbed Everest three times.
The other thing that we did was that we went ahead a couple months early with cameras, and Phurba helped us pick two young Sherpas who he thought were good potential camera operator. We trained these two young guys to film things we wouldn’t have access to. You see a lot of their material in the film. They were there to film base camp being set up. To be honest I didn’t really have high expectations, but when I got there and saw what they filmed it was very impressive. It meant we got greater access to their world. They filmed going through the icefall as you see in the film. We put GoPros on them. It ended up adding layers that we never really would have gotten and when things got really messy we wound up having more Sherpas on our team. They went down and filmed that first protest that was really Sherpas only. And all of these other guys were saying “What’s this? Who are you working for?” and the word kind of spread about our film. And that wound up having real benefits.
T/F:Did you have an overall philosophy to the cinematography? It seems like there might be a danger of making things too pretty, like everything you point at up there is so gorgeous . . .
JP: You say that, but it can look really ordinary, believe it or not. Certainly if I was the one shooting it would look really ordinary. So yes I did, I wanted it to imbue every shot with almost spirituality. There was a very good reason I chose Renan, and it wasn’t because he was such a good climber. He has a way of observing natural environments in a very poetic way. He speaks some Pali, so he understands something about Sherpas and Sherpa culture.
I wanted people to see Everest in a way that they hadn’t before. I wanted to linger longer mountain ridges, I wanted to observe the smoke and all of those symbols that help us understand Sherpa culture. I wanted the mountain to be observed from a different point of view, less as something to be conquered and more as something to be revered. There’s a lot of upspeed that slows stuff down, because you know we bring all of our Western busyness to Everest and I wanted to slow that down for the Sherpa villagers, because time really is slower, it runs at a different pace. They are Buddhist people and they really take time to observe the world around them. I hope that comes through.
We could not be happier to report that in 2016 we have raised the most ever for the True Life Fund! Together we have collected $42,500* for TLF recipient Sonita Alizadeh. Alizadeh, the teenage subject of the film Sonita, is an Afghani refugee living in the US who is both a rapper and an advocate against child marriage.
The True Life Fund is made up primarily of small donations, collected via festival screenings, local high schools, text-to-give donations, and our website, plus a generous challenge grant of $15,000 from the Bertha Foundation. The Crossing, a local Columbia church, has sponsored the Fest and the Fund for the past nine years.
The film, Sonita, directed by Iranian filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, chronicles a pivotal moment in Sonita’s life. Living as a refugee in Tehran, Sonita dreams of becoming a successful rapper. But her efforts are threatened by her mother’s plans to sell her into marriage in Afghanistan. As things become desperate, the filmmaker intervenes, setting off an extraordinary chain of events.
“Words are not enough to express how the True Life Fund helped Sonita. The value was not only in the money, but the love and care that thousands of people sent Sonita,” Ghaemmaghami said.
At T/F, Sonita and director Ghaemmaghami did post-screening Q&As, and Alizadeh performed her original music for more than 4,000 people. T/F has established a trust in Sonita’s name, which will allow for regular distribution of the funds.
“I am truly grateful to True/False for this incredible support. This money secures a future education for me and a voice for so many girls who are not heard, as I work toward my goal of ending child marriage. The kindness of the friends I made at True/False is something I will always treasure.”Alizadeh said.
Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, The True Life Fund supports the subject of one film each year to show appreciation for the sharing of their stories. Alizadeh is increasingly a well-known opponent of forced child marriages, and recently performed at Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award ceremony.
The True Life Fund will help support Sonita as she furthers her education and works to achieve her musical aspirations. Additional donations to the TLF can be made here or via text (573.818.2151) through April 30.
The next True/False Film Fest will take place March 2 – 5, 2017 in downtown Columbia, Mo.
*UPDATE: As of April 30, when donations ended, the final tally increased to $43,514!