The True/False 2015 Fest Digest provides a day-by-day look back at some of the events that made up this year’s Fest with stories, pics and videos. Explore each entry below:
Throughout the festival, the T/F Video Team put in long hours and late nights creating daily recap videos for each day of the Fest. A big thank you to videographers Paul Mossine, Chelsea Myers, Samuel Ott, Matthew Suppes, Ben Hendricks, Matt Schacht, Thomas Brinegar and Jonathan Sessions for capturing the feel of True/False 2015. Check out their work below:
Music by: Miss Jubilee & The Humdingers – “I Found A New Baby”
Edited by Thomas Brinegar
Music by: David Wax Museum – “Will You Be Sleeping”
Edited by Paul Mossine
Music by Messy Sparkles – Untitled, Pat Sajak Assassins – “Cave Bacon”
Edited by Samuel Ott
Thank You Volunteers!
Music: Yes Ma’am
Edited: Chelsea Myers
We have all once more parted ways. It’s always a little sad to realize that the festival is now part of the past. But hopefully True/False 2015 is now part of a past we can carry with us and live together inside of for years to come.
Jarred Alterman’s final prefeature micro film “The Bottle Hunter” considers messages sent through time, arriving in the present through a window of time. Hopefully a few of the thousands of ideas, impressions, feelings and experiences that we shared this weekend will arrive suddenly in your present at a time you least expect it.
We sprung forward into the final day of T/F 2015, meaning the 9:30 screening of The Visit came extra early at the Missouri Theatre. Michael Madsen’s hypnotic simulation of humanity’s first encounter with alien intelligence features interviews with international officials who actually develop protocol for such an occurrence.
Meanwhile, at the Oddfellows Lodge everyone chowed down at the Weird Wake-Up before entering the theater for a double bill mid-length films about art curation and time: Abandoned Goods and Jeff, Embrace Your Past.
On Sunday, long time friend Gabe Williams guided the ever-popular Art Ramble through downtown Columbia, highlighting the art installations during True/False. He spoke about the ephemeral nature of True/False’s art and the temporary nature of all of our human achievements. One of the pieces considered was Duncan Bindbeutel The Frozen Man located outside of Ragtag Cinema.
Sunday afternoon at The Missouri Theatre hosted director Nick Broomfield’s Tales from the Grim Sleeper, which investigates the community and police response (or lack thereof) to a serial killer’s 20-plus year killing spree of young women in South Central L.A. Broomfield was joined on stage by Pam Brooks, a woman from the area who becomes an ad hoc investigator in the film.
At our rookie venue Cornell on the MU campus, T/F 2015 concluded with a screening of Finders Keepers, a hilarious and poignant film about the custody battle over a severed foot.
Later at the Vimeo Theater at the Blue Note, T/F concluded with a screening of Episode Five of The Jinx: the Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, the HBO nonfiction series. Before hand, David explained his excitement about the potential for long form nonfiction on television that the series represents. Afterwards, filmmaker Marc Smerling discussed episode’s startling developments, while carefully avoiding spoilers for next week’s finale.
And at the Missouri Theatre, a huge crowd gathered for the always bittersweet Busker’s Last Stand, where a huge array of T/F 2015 musicians performed in unison.
True/False is only possible because each and every year hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers joyfully contribute their time and labor. We can not let the fact that they show up each and every year make us complacent in recognizing how remarkable this is. Thank you to our volunteers. You are incredible.
The hardworking T/F Video team put together this short piece as one expression of our gratitude.
Another way we try to say thank you is our Sunday night volunteer party. Our party team spent countless hours transforming an undisclosed location into an indescribable party space. Once again, it was the best party of the year. Each room offered specific delights as we all spent a feel hours drinking, talking and dancing inside of some sort of strange utopia.
Thank you again to everyone who made this possible. True/False 2015 may be past, but we will try to keep the conversation about the art of nonfiction cinema going, both here on our website and out in the world, through the weeks and months ahead until we all come together again March 3, 2016.
Minister of Propaganda
True/False Film Fest
True/False 2015 barreled ahead through a glorious, jam-packed Saturday. With so much to see and hear and think and feel, you find yourself forgetting to eat and sleep. Inside the Fest, time seems to move differently.
In Jarred Alterman’s third microfilm, “The Beekeeper”, Jim Thaxter explains something similar, how organisms like bees experience the flow of time not as individuals, but as a collective.
Saturday began bright and early with our the True Life Run, a surprise-filled journey through the heart of Columbia to benefit our True Life Fund. The weather was great, and a run felt like just the thing after two days of cinema.
At the Forrest Theater, Saturday began with a screening of Heaven Knows What, one of the few films at T/F this year which could clearly, if not cleanly, be described as “fiction”. Afterwards, brother filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie described meeting their star Arielle Holmes while she was living on the street, and persuading her to right a memoir about her life, which eventually became the basis for the screenplay. They also talked about shooting from blocks away, so that their actors could authentically inhabit New York.
That afternoon at the Missouri Theatre, it was time for the biggest screening of our 2015 True Life Fund film, The Look of Silence. David Wilson and Crossing Church Pastor Dave Cover introduced the film and the fund benefiting Adi Rukun, who in the film confronts perpetrators of the 1965-66 Indonesian genocide. After the screening, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer translated while Adi joined us from Indonesia via Skype. When asked about revenge Adi said, “I never wanted to take revenge. What good would it do? It would just perpetuate violence forever.”
At Reynolds Journalism Institute, our second day of panels featured a discussion about working with subjects on the margins. Filmmakers Hanna Polack (Something Better to Come), Morgan Knibble (Those Who Feel the Fire Burning) and Khalik Allah (Field Niggas) considered numerous pitfalls in conversation with moderator by Omar Mullick (These Birds Walk).
A little later, back at the Missouri Theatre, former True Vision Award winner Alex Gibney took the stage following a screening of Going Clear, his comprehensive expose on the history and methods of the Church of Scientology. Gibney talked about preparing for the ongoing legal battle that followed the film’s premiere at Sundance and capturing the right tone for this stranger-than-fiction story.
Later at The Globe, an audience gathered to watch the hilarious Rules of the Game, a French film following three teens as they progress (or regress) through a program designed to prepare them for the workforce. Even the film’s chapter introductions drew huge laughs from the crowd, who watched the film beneath the glow of Camellia Cosgray’s lighted megamap.
At 9th and Broadway, The Great Wall featured short films and news reports from our late friend Malik Bendjelloul, who won over T/F audiences with his earnest charm when appearing with his film Searching for Sugar Man (T/F 2012). Beneath The Wall, David Wilson led a toast for Malik “who will always have a place at True/False.”
Then it was time for one of True/False’s signature events, Gimme Truth! In our always raucous game show, a panel of filmmakers must try to discern if short films are 100% True or 100% False.
In this short clip captured by our friends at CAT TV, panelists Ioanis Nugent (Spartacus & Cassandra), Lyric R. Cabral ((T)ERROR) and Nick Broomfield (Tales of the Grim Sleeper) appraise Snip Snip: A Story of Childhood Loss by Mike Sleadd & Matt Schacht.
Meanwhile at the Missouri United Methodist Church, Anonymous Choir performed in a first-of-its-kind Sanctuary Showcase, sending beautiful melodies echoing off of the walls.
While over at Rose Music Hall, Shilpa Ray tore through the place with her harmonium and voice as part of our Saturday Showcase.
Only one days remains, but there is no slowing down. It is time to spring forward into the final day of T/F 2015. But before we do, lets take one last look back at Saturday with the latest offering from the T/F Video Team, who pulled yet another all-nighter to bring you the sights and sounds of T/F.
On Friday True/False expanded into more and more venues, events, screenings, concerts, panels and parties. This makes our job in the Fest Digest even more of a fool’s errand, but we’ll try to provide a little bit of cohesion to the day that was. Below you’ll find descriptions, images and video of just a few of the things that happened yesterday.
Before each program on Friday, fest-goers saw Jarred Alterman’s second microfilm “The Clockmaker”, in which “Pendulum” Bob King considers time as something we think we grasp, but is ultimately mysterious.
In the august setting of the Missouri Theatre, Friday began with an extraordinary event in T/F history. For the first time, T/F partnered with Columbia high schools to bring each and every 10th grader from Columbia public high schools to a special showing of What Happened, Miss Simone at Missouri theater.
The film charts the life of the combustible, brilliant jazz singer Nina Simone. After the film, students asked questions to director Liz Garbus, who discussed Simone’s psychological afflictions and their complicated relationship with her ability to produce incredible art.
Afterward, students migrated to the greater Orr St. area for our DIY (Do It Yourself!) Day! Orr St. Studios housed a large parade preparation workshop, with glitter galore, and mask and banner creation for the March March. Smaller individual breakout sessions focused on filmmaking, music, screen-printing and advice from those with success in creating a life of artistic expression.
In an attempt to dig deeper into the minds of the many brilliant guests we bring to town, we put on a series of conversations at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. In our first, panelists Kevin B. Lee (Transformers: The Premake), Zhao Qi (producer of The Chinese Mayor) and Dean Ming Yang and Dr. Zhenzheng Wang discussed the state of documentary filmmaking in the People’s Republic of China and different models that filmmakers there have attempted to try to reach audiences.
True/False presents but a single award each year. Our True Vision Award honors the career of a working filmmaker who has made significant contributions to nonfiction cinema. This year that honor went to Adam Curtis, who for over twenty years at the BBC has reevaluated history through brilliant archival montages.
At noon Friday Curtis presented a unique program at our second home, Ragtag Cinema, titled Unstoryfiable: Where Journalism Fails and Modern Power Begins. Talking in-between short films, segments and clips, Curtis’ wide-ranging, audacious and frequently humorous presentation argued that new systems of power, grounded in predictive systems for risk management, hide in plain sight because they are impossible to capture with either narrative or imagery.
Immediately following Unstoryfiable, Adam was whisked away to the Missouri Theatre, where Paul presented him with the True Vision Award ahead of a screening of his new film Bitter Lake, which examines the tortured history of Afghanistan in light of a fateful agreement between the United States and the House of Saud.
When the bright and sunny afternoon Friday afternoon rolled around it was time for the March March, in which we usher in a new season with a joyous parade down the center of downtown Columbia, featuring music, costumes, puppets and more.
Meanwhile at the Picturehouse, it was the first screening of Spartacus & Cassandra, an artful blend of verite intimacy and lyrical interludes about the lives of two Roma children at a crossroads. Director Loanis Nuguent and subject Camille Brisson were on hand afterwards for a spirited Q and A.
And at Rhynsburger Theatre, Sam Green presented The Measure of All Things, a constantly evolving live-documentary featuring live musical accompaniment. As still images and video clips appeared on screen, Green narrated a interwoven series of tales inspired by entries in The Guinness Book of World Records, including the time the world’s second tallest man saved the life of a dolphin.
A little later filmmakers and festgoers come into close contact at the Oddfellows Lodge during Campfire Stories, an intimate event where filmmakers tell stories of “the scene that got away.” In one of this year’s entries, Khalik Allah of Field Niggas described gaining and then losing a subject, and a friend. Our friends at CAT TV captured his tale on video.
The night ended at Tonic with the @CTION Party. By the time midnight rolled around, the dance floor was crammed with bodies in motion to the sounds provided by DJs Gold E Mouf and Cousin Cole.
Friday’s gone, but there’s so much more T/F to come. Time to head out back into the festival. But before we do, let’s take one last look at Friday through a video recap, amazingly created overnight by the diligent T/F Video Team.
Onwards to Saturday!
T/F Opening night brings with it adrenaline and jitters, followed by the sudden ecstasy of being once more in a crowd of fest-goers and a feeling of that excitement echoed back. No matter your preparation, True/False only truly exists in the present, right now.
Before all of the opening night films, the first of Jarred Alterman’s T/F 2015 microfilms examining our concept of time screened. “The Astrophysicist” introduces us to Angela Speck, who explains how, in her extra-intuitive domain of inquiry, time becomes a measurement of distance.
The promise of a new True/False weekend manifests in our annual fancy pants gala, The Jubilee. Costumed T/F fans packed the august Missouri Theatre, enjoying drinks, hors d’oeuvres, the joyful noise created by a menagerie of performing buskers.
Eventually, we all found our seats for a screening of Best of Enemies a film which offers fascinating context to the vital archival footage of William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal’s seminal televised debates of the late 60s. Afterwards co-director Morgan Neville tried to explain the feeling of finally sharing a film with an audience after being alone with it for so long. He also said he wants to provoke discussion about “civil and uncivil discourse.”
Later at the Vimeo Theater at The Blue Note, Morgan Knibbe’s impressive feature debut Those Who Feel the Fire Burning screened for the very first time in the United States. By forcing us into the perspective of a hovering ghost, the film aims to “throw the audience into the deep” of the difficult and often hopeless lives of recent immigrants to Europe. Afterwards, Knibbe talked with the crowd and T/F programmer Chris Boeckmann about wanting to find a poetic approach to this problem that went “further than the numbers and factual information.”
Opening night came to an end at Cafe Berlin with the Toast/False busker showcase, featuring the bittersweet music of Cindy Woolf & Mark Bilyeu, Jack Grelle & Ryan Koenig and The Strangled Darlings, seen below.
Thursday night was but a warm-up for what is in store for us today. But before we plunge ahead, let’s take one more look at the excitement of opening night via the T/F Video Team, whose work features Miss Jubilee & The Humdingers’ song “I Found A New Baby”.
True/False 2015 is right now.
Welcome to our daily digest. Here we’ll be covering the Fest each day as it happens and trying to talk about True/False as a whole. Paradoxically, the only way to do this is to look closely at a few individual parts. In these daily updates, we’ll be covering just a fraction of the film screenings, Q and As, panel conversations, concerts, parties and art exhibits happening this weekend in coordination with the T/F photo and video teams.
In 2015 we want to talk about time. Among the arts, cinema’s relationship with time is unique. A film only truly exists inside of its brief run-time, yet inside of that sacred set of minutes, great cinema dominates time, underlining it or erasing it, chopping it to pieces or stretching it out before us. Likewise, our festival is a mere four days, but we aim to offer an experience which opens temporally both backwards and forwards, outward into the years.
To look at T/F we need to start not at the beginning, but at many beginnings, conceptual, temporal, geographical of the threads which have gathered together into our festival.
To help explore the daunting theme of time, we once more called upon the services of filmmaker Jarred Alterman, who crafted the microfilms you’ll see before each and every screening. Here’s an enigmatic preview of what he has in store for us.
True/False exists to investigate the contradiction at the heart of cinema, a medium which can faithfully capture slivers of reality while constantly manipulating our experience. A couple years ago we began an important new part of this inquiry thanks to the generous support of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Neither/Nor is an annual partnership with a visiting film critic to map a history of chimeric cinema, films which aggressively embrace cinema’s central paradox. This year in our third Neither/Nor program critic Ela Bittencourt is presenting a series of shamefully under seen work from Poland, covering the last two decades of that nation’s Communist rule. Ela created a beautiful monograph featuring essays and interviews on all six programs in the series, available right now at the Ragtag Box office.
Months of preparation and research for Neither/Nor culminated last night in a kickoff for the series at Ragtag Cinema, downtown CoMo’s 365-day a year cinema born of the same parent organization and inseparable from the Fest in innumerable ways. In the Hittsville gallery space hosted a photography show of the work of filmmaker Bogdan Dziworski, one of the Polish masters we’re honoring this year.
Inside Ragtag’s big theater we held a reception for Ela with authentic Polish food from Columbia’s Cafe Poland. We then settled in for a presentation of Arena of Life, a program of unforgettable short films by Bogdan. Afterwards Bogdan spoke excitedly as Ela translated about his desire to blend the surreal and the real through aggressive sound design and told an unbelievable story about a planned prison break.
Meanwhile, our annual fundraising effort for a documentary subject, the True Life Fund, is already well underway. Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, the man responsible for The Act of Killing and it’s companion film The Look of Silence has made appearances at all four Columbia high schools, discussing with students how Adi Rukun, The Look’s protagonist, heroically confronted the still powerful men who killed his brother along with hundreds of thousands of others in Indonesia’s anti-communist purges of 1965-66.
At our venues around town and on the University of Missouri campus, our army of volunteers has once more sprung into action, transforming spaces into temporary, yet glorious cinemas. Below you can see the ball room of the Tiger Hotel in the process of becoming The Forrest Theater once more.
Our production team has already spent months and months in T/F’s secret lab, constructing the numerous art installations which will reveal a hidden utopia inside of our city. Here Glenn Rice installs his “light cone” piece in downtown’s central artery, Alley A.
And our central hub of operations, the T/F Box Office, has settled into its new home in Imago Gallery at Hitt and Broadway. The bustling crowds picked up their tickets and passes and scooped out the merch underneath chandeliers and murals dedicated to a creature with extraordinary longevity.
Finally, last night T/F eve came to an end at Eastside Tavern, where Relevant Hairstyles where part of a weird and wild start to our 2015 music program. Buskers will be playing before each and every screening this weekend.
It’s about time. The preparation is finally at an end. Let’s get started.
Minister of Propaganda
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is a six-part HBO series examining enigmatic millionaire Robert Durst, still free despite being implicated in a disappearance, a murder and a dismemberment over the course of three decades. Created by the team of Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling, the men responsible for the unforgettable Capturing the Friedmans, The Jinx artfully presents a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of perspectives, outrageously including that of Durst himself in an extensive, uncomfortable interview.
The Jinx deserves to be recognized as both great television and great cinema. For this reason, T/F will be presenting three different programs of The Jinx during the Fest. The first program features episodes 1 and 2 and the second episodes 3 and 4. The third, Sunday night at 9:00 the Vimeo Theater at the Blue Note, will feature episode 5 the same night it premieres on HBO. If you’ve been watching at home or want to catch up on HBOGo, you can jump in for a special extended Q and A with co-creator Marc Smerling, who will be addressing for the first time the startling revelations contained in this episode. It should make for an unforgettable conclusion to T/F 2015.
Note: Gateway Packets are now sold out. But do not fear, we’ll have thousands of tickets on sale for these and other films at our box office beginning March 5.
The Gateway Packet is now on sale until 6 pm on Friday February 27 for T/F 2015. For $40, the Gateway grants you the ability to reserve three tickets online. For a select set of screenings at True/False 2015, which runs March 5-8. You can reserve tickets for three different screenings or multiple tickets for the same one; it’s up to you. Gateway is a great to introduce someone new to T/F. Pick up yours here.
This year’s Gateway screenings are as follows:
(T)ERROR, Thursday at 6:45pm, Vimeo Theater @ The Blue Note
Those Who Feel the Fire Burning, Thursday 9:30pm, Vimeo Theater @ The Blue Note
Drone, Thursday, 10:15pm, The Missouri Theatre
Cartel Land, Friday 10:15pm, The Missouri Theatre
I Am the People, Saturday 10:00am, Geology
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Saturday 9:30pm, Missouri Theatre
The Visit, Sunday 9:30am, Missouri Theatre
Spartacus & Cassandra, Sunday, 12:30pm, Missouri Theatre
Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Sunday 3:30pm, Missouri Theatre
Of Men and War, Sunday, 5:30pm, Geology
Finders Keepers, Sunday, 7:00pm, Cornell Hall
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (Episode 5), Sunday 9:00pm, Vimeo Theater @ The Blue Note
Below we gathered some info about this year’s Gateway selections.
(T)ERROR gains unprecedented access to an FBI counter-terrorist investigation, as its directors Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe explain in this video from Sundance 2015.
Those Who Feel the Fire Burning is a haunting look at life immigrant communities in Europe, as you can see in the mesmerizing trailer below.
Drone is a timely investigation drone technology, and the sticky, unresolved issues around its wide spread use in modern warfare.
Cartel Land a jaw-dropping look at the moral grey zone’s created by powerful drug cartels, as director Matthew Heineman explained at Sundance.
I Am the People is a unique and deeply humanist examination of the Arab Spring, an important film just now arriving in our hemisphere.
Brett Morgen’s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck creates a frightening and fascinating portrait out of a wealth of amazing archival materials. Morgen recently discussed his intimate with a legend in an interview with Rolling Stone.
The Visit is a hypnotic philosophical provocation from filmmaker Michael Madsen, who simulates humanity’s first encounter with an extraterrestrial species.
Spartacus & Cassandra is a beautiful and affecting story Roma children at a life crossroads. The blog Cine Vue covered its screening at last spring’s Cannes Film Festival.
Tales of the Grim Sleeper explores the unbelievable story of a serial killer who preyed on women in a South Central LA neighborhood for 25 years.
Of Men and War is a direct, unforgettable look at American soldiers suffering from PTSD, and the difficulty of providing them the help they need.
Finders Keepers is the stranger-than-fiction story of a severed foot found in a BBQ grill, and the even more bizarre events that followed. The Guardian covered its recent screening at Sundance.
Finally, The Jinx a multipart HBO series, where filmmaker Andrew Jarecki presents a shifting kaleidoscope of perspectives around millionaire Robert Durst, who happens to be the center of multiple murders and disappearances. The Sunday screening that is part five, so those watching along on HBO or HBOGo can join in. If you’ve caught up, check out the analysis of the latest episode on Vulture.
Note: This interview first ran in April 2014, when Approaching the Elephant screened at the Sarasota film festival. We are sharing it again in honor of the film’s theatrical premiere at the Independent Film Project in Brooklyn, NYC where it is playing through February 26.
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.
T/F: How did you first hear about the idea of a free school?
Amanda Rose Wilder: 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.
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.”
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.