Spirituality of the Mountain: An Interview with Sherpa director, Jennifer Peedom

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.

SHERPA (T/F 2016) is available to rent or buy via iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, and YouTube.

Posted June 16, 2016


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

Posted April 14, 2016


We are done. Obliterated. Barely functional. Our mind is like an underground trash fire that will burn for five-thousand years, but in a good way.

We feel like we are watching ourselves when we witness a team collapse the enormous white orbs which had been floating above the Missouri Theatre balcony. They deflated the enormous white orbs, understanding they were not disposable, and would be back next year.

Outside of Sparky’s, at 2:45pm, we listened to a banjo player and tried to count how many people we could see up and down Ninth Street. This is the kind of mind-sapped idea that we have after three days of films, music, art, and parties. We couldn’t count the people, so we went to the biscuit truck and asked how many biscuits they had sold in the past three days. A man in the biscuit truck said “over a thousand biscuits,” and we aren’t sure if that’s a lot of biscuits, or a little. Judging by the way he said it, we think that a thousand biscuits is a lot of biscuits.

Wishbone Ze played during the Sparkys Sunday Showcase. March 6, 2016. (Photo by Tina Edholm)

Wishbone Zoe played during the Sparkys Sunday Showcase. March 6, 2016. (Photo by Tina Edholm)

Everyone was talking about Tickled. As it turns out, watching Tickled is a lot like getting tickled. At first getting tickled is good, but it quickly becomes both good and horrifying, and yet it’s hard to stop laughing. Word on the street is there are actual professional ticklers about, on the streets of Columbia, and we try to spot them. We think, for a while, about the traits of a tickler. We build a tickler profile: extremely wealthy, serious, and male.

Random, overheard fest-goer quote: “You would think I oughta see films this good at home, you know, where I got like a hundred channels, but they’re all showing CRAP!”

Deborah Stratman came with her beautiful, experimental film Illinois Parables. It puts us in a whirling tornado, a nuclear reactor, and a hot-air balloon. It looks like a water-strider made of hilled earth viewed from two-thousand feet in 16mm film. She refers to what she does as, “sculpting pressures.” Then she says, “most of the experience of a film happens later, up here,” and points to her head. We think about what this means for the next twelve months, and wonder if we will have enough time to truly experience the memory of this festival before the next one begins. We wonder if we could have somehow made a comprehensive documentary of True/False which would supplement our memory of the True/False film festival itself, and which we could watch in the comfort of our home, unthinkingly, eating popcorn on our couch.

But we go to Buskers Last Stand in the pleasantly packed Missouri Theatre lobby. Yes Ma’am plays and then Les Trois Coups plays and the mass of people forms around the new people playing. This happens again and again. And then the volunteers link arms, produce megaphones, and cheerfully force us all out of the theatre while informing us the festival has concluded. But the festival has not concluded. We are talking about films, standing our ground, until the line of volunteers meets us and we are strained out the front door.

Musicians perform during Buskers Last Stand at the Missouri Theatre, March 7, 2016. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce)

Musicians perform during Buskers Last Stand at the Missouri Theatre, March 6, 2016. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce)

We bounce through a volunteer party, where we’ve rewarded our 1,004 volunteers with croissant sandwiches, open bars, and big-shot, out-of-town rappers Champagne Jerry. We get sprayed with champagne. We see our favorite drag-queen again.

Toasted was held at Cafe Berlin on Monday, March 7 from 12:30am-4am. Several guests arrived to get early morning breakfast and to listen to filmmakers, artists, and others talk about their weekend. (Photo by Morgan Lieberman)

At Toasted, hosted by Charlie Lyne, festival guests congregate for the last time to get early morning waffle breakfast and to listen to filmmakers, artists, and others talk about their weekend. (Photo by Morgan Lieberman)

Then we go to Toasted at Cafe Berlin in the middle of the night. This is supposed to last for four hours. Many of us here are awaiting midnight shuttles back to where we came from. We fly to many different time zones, and it will take us many hours, and we will bring the festival home to our villages. The M.C. Charley Lyne produces an autobiography of Miley Cyrus and begins to read. Then come the directors, one-by-one, talking candidly about their films.

It feels like nobody wants this thing to end.

True/False 2016 Daily Digest: Sunday, March 6, 2016

Posted March 7, 2016


Where do we start the story of our day? Where should we stop? How about we start with a momentous, seemingly impossible marvel?

Bad film-school movies start with a character waking up to an alarm clock going off. We’ll begin the day’s fest digest here: the moment we became conscious that we had a body, that we existed, and that the rules of physics were still firmly in place: a man in a hot-pink shirt went running past us missing us by inches. We stepped back, surprised, and a woman in a neon green shirt just about got us from the other side. Then it occurred to us: this was the True Life run, and we had ambled dumbly into the course of the race. We exist in a dream-like place this weekend. Walking out of movies, regaining our selves, losing it again. We must remember what is real. We must construct a narrative that makes some kind of sense. Our stories are what define us.

Participants colorful leg gear at the True Life Run on March 5, 2016. (Photo by Tina Edholm)

Participants colorful leg gear at the True Life Run on March 5, 2016. (Photo by Tina Edholm)

Jeff Feuerzeig, director of Author: The JT LeRoy Story and Heidi Ewing, director of Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You were talking about film in front of a crowd of people. This was Synapses, in the Reynolds Journalism Institute – a little like a panel, but not. Susan Sontag once said something like, “intelligence is something that happens between two people,” and we think she’s touched on the logic of the Synapse, which is new this year. Jeff and Heidi were there to talk about how they craft cinematic biography. There was a discharge of ions, action potential was reached, the nerve-ending fired, and Heidi said, “I wondered how to do a biography of Detroit,” as if the city were a character. We all just stared at her. But the city is not not a character, we think. How do you make a biography of a city? Then Heidi tells us. We paraphrase: “Call everyone you know in that city you wish to make a biography of. Ask each person you call, ‘What ten people would you say are the Detroit-est?’ Make a list of the names they give you, and then contact those names. Have those people give you their list of the five most Detroit-est. Those are your characters.”

The characters of True/False are on the screen but also milling around. We thought we’d find a hardcore extremist segment of the True/False characters by showing up to the intermission of the 344-minute film Homeland, about an Iraqi family before and after the second Gulf-War invasion. Who are these people, we wondered, who would see a 344-minute film? We saw a bus-tub get carried out of Big Ragtag, where Homeland was showing, and it was overflowing with Girl-Scout cookie boxes and empty soda bottles. That’s how they’re doing it, we realize. Quick calories. Focus. Here they come from inside, now, at the halfway point, taking a break from Homeland: Dan and Stacie look beleaguered, eyes bloodshot, moving slowly, looking happy. Why did you choose this film, we asked, and they said, “We chose it because we’ve never seen anything like it.” Seth, also watching Homeland, said, “I have temporarily regained some sense of how soft our existence is,” to which we can only nod.

Homeland director Abbas Fahdel answers questions during a Q&A at Ragtag. (Photo by Noah Frick-Alofs)

Homeland director Abbas Fahdel answers questions during a Q&A at Ragtag. (Photo by Noah Frick-Alofs)

We have a cup of soup at Uprise bakery and watch two out-of-towners, press passes around their necks, guy and girl, working on laptops across from each other. Guy on the left spills his soda all over the table, and it runs beneath her laptop. True/False volunteer number 982, Johnny Pez, materializes with a rag in less than five seconds. The guy and the girl hit it off and start talking. A connection is forged. Out come the business cards. We wonder if they will be life-long friends.

“There wasn’t a dry-eye in the place,” says a moviegoer named Cindy, of the moment when Sonita emerged from behind the black curtain following her film and rapped for Jesse hall.

During the film Starless Dreams, pathos is like a bubble of warm air that inflates inside of us, filling, breaking, refilling, and then just barely deflating again. Director Mehrdad Oskouei, recipient of this year’s True Vision award, said, when introducing his film, “I am very very happy now,” and we were, too. Pathos. This was in the palatial Missouri Theater. “I dedicate this prize to these girls you see, to whom nobody dedicates anything,” Mehrdad said, and left the stage without his trophy. A volunteer collected it on his behalf before the film began. The extreme pathos we feel when the girl who’s named herself Nobody, living in a jail for juvenile delinquents in Iran, tells us about her family life, is instantly transformed by a babbling, giggling baby, which the young women wash together, and later make dance.

Up Ninth Street, T/F icon Johnny St. John celebrated his tenth year as the angry, recidivist host of Gimme Truth, America’s favorite documentary game show. As always, Gimme Truth featured 10 short-films from local directors. In one, a man is struck by lightning four times. We are very proud of our tiny festival-within-a-festival. Another Murray Center student Morgan Lieberman celebrated her first place finish for her pitch-perfect bank-robbery short Steve’s Legos. Kirsten Johnson (Poitras’ collaborator) tied with fellow judge Roger Ross Williams for most shrewd discernment sussing out truthiness from falsity. Morgan Neville rounded up the rear. 

Hannah Bilau answers questions about her entry during Gimme Truth at The Vimeo Theatre at The Blue Note, March 5, 2016. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce)

Hannah Bilau answers questions about her entry during Gimme Truth at The Vimeo Theatre at The Blue Note, March 5, 2016. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce)

Added in the last few days to the T/F schedule was the “Concerned Student 1950” screening. It happened at the Missouri Theatre at around 11:45pm, and it was easy to see why the 30-minute, behind-the-scenes and wrenched-from-the-frontlines film was undeniable to T/F programmers. Piggybacking this surprise film onto the end of a packed show of Secret Screening Navy involved ushering in 300 attendees into emptied seats post Q&A, it became a historic occasion in itself, the most memorable moment in 13 years of True/False.  Our city (which temporarily included luminaries such as Spike Lee and Laura Poitras) got to watch itself on screen, showing a convulsive time when the University of Missouri was turned upside down last fall. Was it kismet, serendipity, or pure luck that the biggest, most explosive thing that ever happened to Columbia coincided with the birth of the Murray Center for Documentary Journalism AND New York-based Field of Vision? Three bright-eyed students – backed by ace talents – met head-on with the unfolding drama of other students demanding change, and demanding it now, and improbably getting quite a few answered including the resignation of a university president. Concerned Studens 1950’s final chants of “Ashé power!” — Yoruba for power – obliterated everything that came before in the fest.

True/False 2016 Daily Digest: Saturday, March 5, 2016

Posted March 6, 2016


Have you been into that bathroom yet?” asks busker Dan Fister, “It is cold, and clean, like a Pacific schooner.” And we wonder what films he has seen today that would make him talk that way. We are in the @CTION party. It is lavishly decorated, perhaps like a Pacific schooner, and the music is rocking. A guy is tearing off his shirt on the dance floor and the door’s only been open five minutes. We should probably begin at the beginning of today, which has been a killer day, a day which has not killed us, which we are miraculously enduring, troopers, as we are, of the True/False Endurance Festival. It is only Friday. Help us. Get down here.

“I had red beans and rice, and a chicken wing, and a mini-scone thing.” Dan said earlier, leaving Reality Bites at the Picturehouse theater. A beautiful, hand-woven shirt, made of native fibers by visiting artist Taylor Ross, hung in a cedar teepee on the lawn outside the picturehouse. Dan touched it. He said it felt wonderful. Most people were not touching the shirt, though the sign said, “Touch, please.” We did, and it felt better than anything we usually wear, and it was made entirely out of native-plant fibers. We don’t think there is any place else in the United States where we can touch a beautiful shirt made of native plants. This festival is macroscopic. It includes everything. “Touch it. Feel it. Feed it. Celebrate it,” says Nina from The Pearl in reference to what she calls “the gender gift.” We won’t forget it.

At the same time, young Afghan boys were raiding a caravan in the Vimeo Theater at the Blue Note. The Land of the Enlightened, shot in breathtaking 16mm, depicts a boy with a prosthetic limb removing a land mine from the ground. He softly talks to the land mine as he removes it.

It’s hard not to mention the virtual reality experience we had in the Picturehouse. We strapped on a virtual reality headset and we were immersed in blindness. Sounds were represented as dense constellations. We heard a city park as a blind man sees it.

We saw Sonita and then we saw Sonita, in the lobby of a hotel, listening to her iPod. We wonder if she saw us as we were, struck with awe. We will never be as cool as Sonita. Claire Bauffaut, the volunteer with us, said she was calling off movies for the day after seeing the film Sonita. We understand how she feels.

True Life Fund film star, Sonita Alizadeh, address the crowd at the Missouri Theatre on Friday. Director Roksareh Ghaem Maghami and festival co-founder David Wilson joined her on stage for the Q&A. (Photo by Rebecca Allen)

True Life Fund film star, Sonita Alizadeh, address the crowd at the Missouri Theatre on Friday. Director Roksareh Ghaem Maghami and festival co-founder David Wilson joined her on stage for the Q&A. (Photo by Rebecca Allen)

Sometimes the movies we watch make us want to build a little fire in Peace Park, huddle alone there by our little fire, and just think for a few hours. The problem is we can’t. There are stories being told everywhere, stories we’ll never hear anywhere else.

We watched The Pearl and all of the stars were in attendance. In The Pearl, we watched a transgender woman hold on to her wig as she is lashed by the surf in Hawaii. Nina, a star of the film, told us, of seeing her film screen for the first time to a live audience: “It was intense. It was intimate. It got so bad my fingers were tingling.”  Nina flew in from Vancouver, where she’s “retired,” working six days a week as a pizza-delivery driver.

We asked Nina what she would say, if she could say one thing, to people who are still in the closet. “You are normal,” she said, “I would tell you you are normal. I would say you are not alone.”

We are walking up coming down Ninth Street. We hear a soundscape from where Ninth hits Broadway. We see a tree woven with rainbow lights. Everything feels neon in Columbia. The sunset is beautiful again. The weather is getting more perfect.

The March March parade winds down on 9th Street. (Photo by Noah Frick-Alofs)

The March March parade winds down on 9th Street. (Photo by Noah Frick-Alofs)

At the March March, a pug with a pink scarf around his neck was the star of the show. The pug with the pink scarf is not with a film, as far as we know, but it is obvious that this pug is somehow involved. A golf cart with wooden legs came pedalling down the street. The pug barked at it. This pug is connected. That much is clear.

There are beautiful people everywhere. This is fashion week. We try on clothes, take them off, put other clothes on. We saw the singer Lee Fields last night. He was looking perfect. He wore a coat that looked like a disco ball. Lee Fields has a song, “I still got it,” that makes it seem like there was a time he didn’t have it. We can’t imagine, after seeing him play, that Lee Fields ever didn’t have it.

Lone Pinon plays during the Berlin Friday Night Showcase ath Cafe Berlin, March 4, 2016. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce)

Lone Pinon plays during the Berlin Friday Night Showcase ath Cafe Berlin, March 4, 2016. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce)

We went to the Cafe Berlin, where Lone Piñon was playing. It brought us somewhere we have never been. We are traveling space and time. Every place we go transports us somewhere new. We re-emerge into daylight, after the film, and we get our bearings.

True/False 2016 Daily Digest: Friday, March 4, 2016

Posted March 5, 2016


In keeping with this year’s theme, a quote from Those Who Jump: “The moment I touch the fence, I feel free.”

The first film of the fest kicked off at The Vimeo Theater at The Blue Note following an introduction by fest co-conspirator Paul Sturtz. He tantalized us by saying, “It is miraculous. We may have a very special guest later on Skype.” It turns out it’s director and star Abou Bakar Sidibé , in not-altogether-perfect True/False fashion: we get this guy video-feeding through the internet from a refugee camp, but we can’t hear his voice. We can only see him. We cheer when we see him. He looks almost as disappointed as us that we don’t have verbal contact. The sound isn’t coming through. Technicians Mike and Jon and Dylan scramble. Do we cancel the Q&A? We are about to cancel it when at the final moment his voice intercedes. “You say you exist when you film,” begins moderator Eric Hynes, and our interpreter translates. Abou nods, listening to the translation, has a drink of his refugee-camp coffee, and replies.

We aren’t following the lines here. See the day-one fest bumper: erase the lines. Encircle them. We will travel in reverse, to earlier today when we experienced Lost Letters, True/False’s newest, most mysterious experience. We aren’t allowed to talk about it, but we can indicate, using semaphore. Semaphore is part of Lost Letters. So are lab coats. So is a waiver. So is a guy telling you, in the waiting room, “Please do not chew on any live wires,” which at the time gave us some misgivings about embarking upon the experience, but fear not: Lost Letters is an immersive, cooperative experience that brings to mind and then surpasses the most wonderful games of youth.

Lost Letters is Missouri's first work of interactive, immersive theatre in which the audience must solve puzzles to navigate the narrative. (Photo by Stephanie Sidoti)

Lost Letters is Missouri’s first work of interactive, immersive theatre in which the audience must solve puzzles to navigate the narrative. (Photo by Stephanie Sidoti)

There are so many venues at our festival! Everywhere you look is a venue. If it’s not showing movies then it’s a venue for anthropology. Everywhere are people decompressing, people venting, people recently brought to tears of joy now expounding on their upcoming plans for life-change. We will not claim credit for this. We defer to our guests. There are so many venues, we even ventured into what we thought was a venue, and was actually not: My Sister’s Circus on Broadway. This is ostensibly not a venue but may be a venue. We will leave it up to you. 

We went into the volunteer headquarters on 9th street, aka The Nest. The place is beautiful and open, with a buffet of donuts and coffee for the volunteers, and plastic fold-out tables covered in paper where volunteers can graffiti their names. Our volunteer space is technology-enabled and slick. Our volunteers are happy. We have what we feel like is 3,977,987 volunteers but in fact we have 1004. When we went to The Nest, we found a space empty of people. More donuts were on the buffet table than people were in The Nest. One volunteer was asleep on the couch with a program over his head. Another volunteer was pouring herself coffee. Where are all the volunteers? we asked. Then it occurred to us.

We followed a guy holding an orange extension cord coiled up in his right hand through Alley A. The sunset was gorgeous looking west over Lucky’s. We were lucky to follow him. His radio chirped, “Someone’s run over our cones. It is already crazy,” and we recognized the voice over the radio as that of Glenn Rice, a long-time T/F magician, who we later caught up with at the Jubilee.

Festgoers at the opening Jubilee at the Missouri Theatre, March 3, 2016. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce)

Festgoers at the opening Jubilee at the Missouri Theatre, March 3, 2016. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce)

Everyone was having fun at the Jubilee. It was packed. Glenn Rice was trapped with us next to a plate of monkey bread. We asked Glenn, “Tell us something else crazy that happened besides the cones getting run over,” and he said, “Oh nothing. I almost got crushed by a lift falling off the back of a truck.”

We were worried about those lifts. Scissor lifts, jug lifts, crane lifts, all down Alley A. U-Hauls everywhere. Art coming out of all of them. At this point, nothing will surprise us. Our technicians stride deliberately to the edge of possibility, into the land of danger, and they thrive there. They are our big-wave surfers and this fest is their big wave. They are the cowboys and the tank-girls of this festival.

Alley A is so beautiful in the sunset right now, more beautiful than ever, thanks to the artists who have come here this year to beautify our city. The array of multicolored tubes hanging between buildings, the Chain and Plate, established in 1970 but only today finally recognized as true art thanks to a placard installed by volunteers. We always knew that Chain and Plate was art. Go see it right outside the back door of Broadway Brewery.

Back on Mount Gurugu, a man was waking up inside a cactus patch, on the screen inside of The Vimeo Theater at The Blue Note. Those Who Jump’s photography is beautiful. It was dawn over Morocco. He would, that day, make a break for the fence. Simultaneously, a man on the screen in the Forrest Theater’s shorts program “Stand Beside Her and Guide Her” described removing a human brain from the cranium in vivid detail. He went on to say, “I held the human brain in my hands and it hit me: this is a thing that writes poetry.”

We aren’t sure, but the woman who appears at the end of the two-minute thirty-second 8mm film Walden Brooklyn which plays at request in Davey B. Gravey’s Tiny Cinema, holding a stick, might be a lost love of his. We are overwhelmed with emotion. Inside the Jubilee, we ask a guy who saw Those Who Jump how he liked it and he said it was, “Moving, but frightening,” and we do not think we can add anything to that.

Ringleader Eric Hynes asks Those Who Jump subject Abeu Bakar questions during a post-film Q&A session. (Photo by Noah Frick-Alofs)

Ringleader Eric Hynes asks Those Who Jump subject Abeu Bakar questions during a post-film Q&A session. (Photo by Noah Frick-Alofs)

“I feel that I exist when I film,” says Abou, piped through the internet. We feel like we exist when we see documentary. This is what makes our job the best job on earth.

True/False 2016 Daily Digest: Thursday, March 3, 2016


Posted March 4, 2016


We are as a buzzing hive. A city preparing for its annual carnival, its victory parade, its senior prom – we are feeling spoiled rotten that we get to have our once-in-a-lifetime blowout for the 13th time. The production lab is pumping out art. We realize that the whole is not more than the sum of its parts, and that each artist contains the whole genetic code of True/False. Same goes with the movies we’re screening.

Today’s exploits included an excursion to the True/False lab on the Business Loop. When we pulled up we saw a cluster of fluorescent arcade machines tied up together on the back of a trailer. Nearby, volunteers were loading what looked like a river made of wood into the back of a U-Haul. When asked what he was doing, T/F volunteer Matt Barnes said, “Movin’ s**t,” at which point we realized we might be getting in the way of the hundreds of moving pieces – and people – emptying the lab’s contents for destinations all over downtown.

Volunteers move artwork at the T/F design Lab. (Photo by Stephen Bybee)

Volunteers move artwork at the T/F design Lab. (Photo by Stephen Bybee)

We also went and looked at Jerry’s Map on the walls of Uprise Bakery. Jerry, we hear, has been collecting GIS data, in his own artistic way, since the summer of 1963. We hope Columbia now registers on his radar as a place he might include in a future map as good as the one on the Uprise Bakery wall. Then we realize, with certainty, that we at least have a pretty good shot since, after all, Jerry got here. We called Jerry to get a quote for this, our fest digest, but he was somewhere with very bad service. We can only imagine where Jerry was mapping that had the kind of bad service we heard through the phone when we called for the quote. “I can’t hear anything,” Jerry kept saying. We can only conclude that at that moment Jerry was mapping a wonderful land of mystery and thrills.

Joel Sager places the final of tile of Jerry Gretzinger's famous map. (Photo by Jon Asher)

Joel Sager places the final of tile of Jerry Gretzinger’s famous map. (Photo by Jon Asher)

We caught up with Ygor (VJ SUAVE), who just came in from Brazil. For the curious, no, he did not bring his Suaveciclo on the plane. “I cannot bring my tricycle to other countries,” he said, which made sense given the size of this tricycle. He did, however, bring bicycle components which will enable him to turn the bike Karl Klunk gave him into a cargo-tricycle on-the-fly. He also brought a high-powered video projector. What kind of art does VJ SUAVE do? If your grandfather owned a cinema and your mother brought you to Disneyland every year for several years when you were a very small boy, and years later you returned to America as an adult because you were brought by a highly esteemed film festival to do art, what kind of art would you do? Join him for two rides this weekend: one starting 6pm Friday at The Picturehouse Lawn. And 10pm Saturday from The Great Wall at the southwest corner of Ninth & Broadway.

People tell us every year that we’re doing too many good things at once. To which we reply: If we got a call right now from the Barnum and Bailey circus, and they told us they wanted to set up and give a brief show in the lobby of the Broadway Hotel, would you advise us to deny them? Would you tell us that dancing horses would be too much, given all that we already have? What if it was a lone ventriloquist who called us on the phone and asked, last minute, if he could perform? These are the types of questions we think about all year.

Some simple advice going into your fest: Be adventurous eaters. And drink the right amount of 360 Vodka. Thank you, 360 Vodka, for partnering with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, Columbia’s strapping urban farmers, toward the goal of making True/False a sustainable enterprise. “We are excited to partner with the festival to make more compost than ever,” said Carrie Hargrove of CCUA, and she would know. CCUA has made a lot of compost.

A representative from 360 Vodka unloads one of the new food scrap recycling bins at Uprise Bakery. (Photo by Stephen Bybee)

A representative from 360 Vodka unloads one of the new food scrap recycling bins at Uprise Bakery. (Photo by Stephen Bybee)

Tonight we’re going rollerskating with old and new friends. We’re going to wear a strawberry-colored suit and we’re going to look alluring when we skate by you. We will plug in the earbuds and groove to Prahlad, the talented finger-piano guru who busks for us every year. We will make three or four quick laps, completely lost in our own world, enjoying some much-needed alone time before downtown erupts. When you see us on our skates, knees bent, butt up, arms swinging, you’ll start to get the picture.

True/False 2016 Daily Digest: Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Posted March 2, 2016


We are collaborating with the the visual journalism film unit Field of Vision to present a free screening of “Concerned Student 1950,” a short film by Varun Bajaj, Adam Dietrich, and Kellan Marvin. The film, an up-close look at Concerned Student 1950 during its November protests, screens at 11:30pm this Saturday, March 5 at the Missouri Theatre.

This past fall, Concerned Student 1950, a collective of Black student activists at Mizzou, rekindled a conversation about racism on campus. Their protests, which involved a homecoming parade demonstration and a hunger strike, resulted in the resignation of the university’s system president, Tim Wolfe — one of the group’s eight demands.

The protests attracted a deluge of press and made national news. Much of the action happened on the campus’ Carnahan Quad, where Concerned Student 1950 representatives camped on a nightly basis. The students declared the campsite a safe space and requested privacy from the media. But Varun Bajaj, Adam Dietrich, and Kellan Marvin, students at the Murray Center for Documentary Journalism, were given special access to film the group throughout the entire process.

Bajaj, Dietrich, and Marvin have created two short-form pieces out of the material. Both will be screening at the festival. The first is a silent piece called “#ConcernedStudent1950,”  which screens from 8-11 p.m. Saturday, March 5 as part of the festival’s Great Wall installation, at the southwest corner of Ninth & Broadway. The second piece is a 30-minute film commissioned by Field of Vision called “Concerned Student 1950.”

“Concerned Student 1950” will be shown only one time during the course of the festival in a special debut presentation. “Concerned Student 1950” screens at Missouri Theatre following the 9:45pm screening of Secret Screening Navy. Those attending that screening are welcome to stay for the short. For those not attending, True/False will be passing out a separate, free, Q starting at 10:30pm for the 11:30pm show.

“Nonfiction filmmaking and journalism do not always have the same goals” says fest Co-Conspirator David Wilson. “But when extraordinary craft meets meticulous reporting as history gets made, this is as good as documentary gets.  It is the festival’s good fortune to partner with both the Murray Center for Documentary Journalism and Field of Vision to showcase young people on both sides of the camera lens.”


Neither/Nor Kick-Off Event

To start your fest a bit early, join us for the Neither/Nor kick-off reception on Wednesday evening (March 2) at Ragtag Cinema! Come meet and share a drink with our critic-in-residence, Nick Pinkerton at 8pm. Then at 8:30pm, Nick will introduce us to Mondo Cane, the 1962 classic that inspired this year’s series. Refreshments courtesy of Schlafly beer and MO Wines.

To snag a free ticket to Mondo Cane, stop by the Ragtag box office starting at 10am on Wednesday. To secure your seat, please arrive at Ragtag fifteen minutes prior to the screening. If you would like to attend any of the remaining screenings in the Neither/Nor series, T/F festival ticketing admission does apply. If you don’t have a reserved ticket, you can use the Q for free!  Read descriptions of all four Neither/Nor films HERE.

The Neither/Nor series is presented with support from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

Posted February 28, 2016

No Pass? No Tickets? No Problem.

In case you haven’t heard of the True/False Film Fest before now, here’s a quick primer:

  • Thursday–Sunday, March 3-6, 2016
  • Downtown Columbia, Missouri
  • 36 of the newest creative non-fiction feature films from around the world (+ 20 shorts)
  • 40 bands and 13 concerts
  • 4 parties
  • 1 parade

While the best way to opt into this weekend of fun may be to purchase a festival pass, we definitely embrace the festival first-timer and make it easy to get a taste of True/False on the fly. Below, you’ll find a whole list of things you can do to enjoy the fest this year without a pass.


Option #1 – Come Get Tickets at the Box Office. 

T/F 2014, Box Office, Pass Opening,

The box office opens for ticket sales on Thursday, March 3 at 9am. We will have over 5,000 film tickets to sell to about 20 different screenings. We will also have tickets available for several LOST LETTERS time slots, as well as free tickets to our late night Field Session game show, Clicking and Streaming. To anticipate what tickets will be available on Thursday, visit our schedule grid and/or our films pages. If you see the little red NRT flag next to a screening time, that means we won’t have tickets for sale. Those two pages will also be updated in real time – so as box office ticket sales get underway, you can keep track online and via the mobile app of what screenings have gone NRT.

The box office is located at the corner of Broadway and Hitt Streets in downtown Columbia, inside the Imago Gallery and Cultural Center (and you can’t miss the sign).


Option #2 – Use the Q for Anything Else You Want to See.

A Q Queen hands out number at The Picturehouse on Friday, February 28, 2014 in Columbia, Mo. (Photo by Sarah Hoffman)

If you DO see that NRT flag next to a screening you’re interested in attending…the Q will be your friend! It works. We have a buffer at every venue specifically for Q-goers. On top of that, we have a lot of passholders with reserved tickets who change their plans and free up even more seats for the Q-goers. That means that you have a very good chance of getting in just by using the Q.

To use the Q: go to the venue directly (not the box office) at least 1 hour before the film starts. At one hour out, the ebullient Q Queens will hand out Q numbers – one per person. With your Q-number in hand, you can leave (cut back on that waiting in line time!). Be sure to return to the venue 15 minutes prior to the film start, at which point the venue staff will let in as many people from the Q line as there are seats available. There has never been a screening in T/F history where no one has gotten in from the Q. You will only pay for your ticket at the door if there is for sure a seat for you. Tickets at the door are $12.


Even more options!

March March participants provide a grand finish for spectators in front of the Missouri Theater. © Clint Alwahab 2012

On top of the films, here is a list of festival events and programs that are FREE and open to the public – no ticket required! Click the links to read more about each one:

the March March

-the Field Sessions at the Reynolds Journalism Institute

The Good Wizard Transmedia Arcade

-the Neither/Nor critic series festival sidebar (you’ll need to use the Q, but admission is free!)

The Great Wall screenings

-the Sparky’s afternoon showcases, and the Landmark Fired Up showcases

The Art Ramble

-the VJ Suave Animation Ride

Toasted at Cafe Berlin

Have any questions? Call our friendly box office staff at 573.442.TRUE (8783) and they’ll be happy to help.

Posted February 26, 2016
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