Shilpa Ray is as raucous a harmonium player as you will find and possibly the first in the history of True/False buskers. The Brooklyn musician is coming to True/False with her backing band to play the Saturday Showcase at Rose Music Hall and even sneak in a few busking gigs throughout the Fest. She’s a documentary film fan and sandwich lover. So, she’ll fit in just fine.
I got the chance to chat with Shilpa via email a few weeks back while New York was facing down a possible blizzard.
True/False: As you know, True/False is a film festival primarily focusing on documentary film. The films at the fest play with ideas of fact and fiction and what lies in between. Considering this, what would the synopsis of a film about your life and career be?
Shilpa Ray: A woman dreaming of a life like Bonnie and Clyde becomes Dillinger instead.
T/F: Are you a documentary fan? Do you have a favorite documentary film and why is it a favorite?
SR: I do love me some documentaries. I enjoy a lot of music ones but I also draw a lot of inspiration from non-musicals as well. I’m a huge Ken Burns fan. Jazz and The West are my favorites. I also love Ric Burns’ New York, Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, Robert J. Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, and Martin Scorcese’s The Blues. I suppose the documentary series that had the greatest impact on me was the PBS Rock and Roll mini series. I recorded it on to VHS when I was a teenager. My parents were incredibly strict when I was growing up, so for fun I read a lot of books, listened to tons of music and watch this series on repeat. I got my mind blown watching footage of the VU, The Doors, the Stooges, David Bowie, the Animals, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Janis and Big Brother Holding Company, The Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, Sly and the Family Stone, P-Funk, Television, Patti Smith, Blondie, Grand Master Flash, Afrika Bambaatta and Kraftwerk . I watched it so religiously. I’d jump around in my bedroom miming all the parts. It was my world.
T/F: The theme for this year’s fest is ‘The Long Now’. How do you and your band fit into this idea of the long now? What does ‘The Long Now’ mean to you?
SR: Isn’t that just defining reality? I suppose documentaries are feeding into a certain kind of fantasy. Condensing one’s subject into highlights, climaxes and rock bottoms. In the meantime we’re all making sandwiches, sleeping, working, getting high and paying bills– lots and lots of bills.
T/F: You will be performing both as a busker and with your band at the Saturday night showcase. How will your busker and showcase performances contrast for fest attendees looking to catch you in both settings?
SR: Whoa! Busking? Really? I had no idea. Sounds like fun though. From what people tell me I’m “really intense” so we’ll see how that works out in-between making sandwiches.
T/F: Sandwiches? What made you bring up sandwiches?
SR: I was so hungry. We are going through “Snowmaggedon” right now and everyone got hysterical. There’s no food left at my grocery store. It’s crazy out here, with not enough snow.
T/F: Last year, 20,000 Days on Earth, the film about a day in Nick Cave’s life, showed at T/F. You have toured with Cave and released a solo record on his label. What has that been like to work with someone of his stature?
SR: He’s a lot of fun. One of the funniest and real people I’ve ever met. He used to make me sandwiches on the tour bus. They were pretty damn good.
T/F: Other than Nick Cave, who are some other musicians you have worked with who influence your music?
SR: Steven Bernstein. He’s more than a stalwart in the New York jazz scene. He’s worked with John Zorn, Lou Reed, John Lurie, tons and tons of rad people. I got to work with him for the Sly Stone and Shell Silverstein tributes held in NYC a few years ago. What a fierce arranger! I was floored by how he can command a large jazz ensemble. Such a magical presence. He’s my favorite.
T/F: Often times, musicians who aren’t white, heterosexual males get pigeonholed based on their identity. Somehow, all they sing about is this perceived identity while white, heterosexual males sing about themes and topics that are more universal – or so the thinking goes.
SR: That’s not true. Musicians play and sing about whatever they want regardless of color and gender. We’re all universally self absorbed hedonists. Sure my life has not been lived the same as a white man, but I don’t feel that what I’m doing is marked by my race or gender. I actually feel that white male culture doesn’t take enough risks and modern music has become incredibly boring. If the music industry is constantly looking for another Kurt Cobain it is and it has been fucking itself over. Everyone knows that.
New T/F 2015 Merch is now in stock and on sale, both in our online store and in the T/F pop-up shop in Makes Scents at 19 S. 9th Street in downtown CoMo. If you want to browse in person, Makes Scents is open seven days a week, Monday-Saturday 10-6, Friday 10-8 and Sunday Noon-5.
T/F 2015 kicks-off on Thursday, March 5 with the Jubilee, our annual masquerade extravaganza. There’ll be costumes, cocktails and buskers a-plenty throughout lobby and corridors of the august Missouri Theatre. Eventually, we’ll all find our seats and take in the opening night film. This year we are thrilled to present the fun and fascinating Best of Enemies, directed by Robert Gordon and Academy Award-winner and T/F alum Morgan Neville of Twenty Feet From Stardom (T/F 2013).
image from Best of Enemies
This archival film utilizes crackling editing and sound design to take us back to the 1960s, when ABC paired the disdaining, incredulous conservative William F. Buckley with the jeremiad-spouting liberal Gore Vidal in a series of televised debates. Their spirited clashes embodied the culture wars of the 60s and haunted both men for the rest of their lives.
image from Best of Enemies
Filmmakers Neville and Gordon will both be on hand for what is sure to be a lively post-film Q and A. We hope to see you there! And don’t forget the rest of the T/F 2015 film slate will be announced at 6 PM tonight!
This Thursday, February 12 is 5% for T/F day at Lucky’s Market. We’ll receive 5% of everything you purchase all day from 7am-10pm, so come on in, get some healthy food and help support the Fest.
In addition in between 4-7 PM in the Lucky’s Cafe, there will be music from T/F buskers The Flood Brothers playing, a Chocolate sampling fair, give-aways of 4 Gateway Packets and 4 Busker bands and T/F Merch for sale, including the new 2015 designs. We hope to see you there!
This year we’re celebrating Poland’s groundbreaking contributions to nonfiction cinema in the 2015 edition of Neither/Nor, our annual repertory sidebar focusing on “chimeric” work that straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction. This year’s program is a collaboration with film critic Ela Bittencourt, with the support of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We will be spotlighting a generation of Polish filmmakers born during World War II. Living in the communist Polish People’s Republic, these filmmakers created formally and politically daring work that continues to influence cinema today. All Neither/Nor screenings are free to the public (access during the Fest is through the Q).
image from A Few Stories About a Man (Neither/Nor 2015)
Throughout True/False 2015 (March 5-8), we will be screening and discussing films from radical luminaries Marcel Lozinski, Grzegorz Królikiewicz, Bogdan Dziworski and Wojciech Wiszniewski, as well as works from younger directors Maciej Drygas and Andrzej Czarnecki. Confirmed guests include Królikiewicz, Dziworski, cinematographer Jacek Petrycki and editor Dorota Wardeszkiewicz.
We’re going to turn things over to T/F programmer Chris Boeckmann to explain how this year’s N/N program emerged from a passionate discussion surrounding an earlier T/F film:
On October 21, 2010, True/False’s screening committee huddled around a small television and watched At the Edge of Russia, a film directed by a then-unknown twenty-something Pole named Michal Marczak. Michal’s film observes a group of Russian soldiers stationed in a remote part of Siberia. Their mission is to protect the border from Arctic Ocean threats. Outside of the context of a documentary festival, many viewers would assume Michal’s Waiting for Godot-esque comedy to be a work of fiction. Every composition is perfect, every laugh feels carefully timed, and the film is built on a neatly constructed narrative. In reality, however, Michal considers his film a work of nonfiction cinema, and it screened almost exclusively at documentary events, including True/False.
After our committee first watched the film, we fiercely debated its documentary claims. That debate continues to this day. In November 2012, the formidable Sean Farnel — a Canadian programmer who included the film in the 2011 edition of his own festival — wrote an article for Indiewire in which he retroactively accused Michal of being “dishonest” for labeling his film a documentary.
image from At the Edge of Russia (T/F 2011)
The 2015 edition of Neither/Nor, which focuses on Polish documentary visionaries of the 1970s-1990s, can be traced back to this 2010 argument. As you will soon see, Michal’s film can be viewed as part of a rich Polish tradition. Before releasing At the Edge of Russia, Michal studied under documentary legend Marcel Lozinski at the Andrzej Wajda Master School of Film Directing. Marcel describes the world as a fish tank and suggests that it’s his job as director to shake that fish tank – i.e. provoke truth, often through staging – and document what happens. Marcel’s profound and mischievous work is explored in this series, as are the films of Dorota Wardeszkiewicz, the editor of At the Edge of Russia. At the beginning of her career, Dorota worked alongside the late Wojciech Wiszniewski, considered one of the fathers of Polish creative documentary. In the years since, she has collaborated with some of Poland’s most innovative documentary directors.
These artists — along with other crucial figures, such as Grzegorz Królikiewicz and Bogdan Dziworski — were born at the start of World War II and created many of their most groundbreaking works as citizens of the communist Polish People’s Republic (1944-1989). How and why did this staggeringly creative cinema emerge out of such a seemingly stifling system? Was it created in spite of that system or because of it? We’ve asked the astute and gifted film writer Ela Bittencourt to guide us through this astonishing, daunting and frequently overlooked period of film history. Her tremendous work speaks for itself.
The Fest will present six Neither/Nor programs throughout T/F 2015. The films include Through and Through (1973) Grzegorz Królikiewicz’s bold and startling debut, which examines a famous 1933 trial using psychodramatic techniques.
image from Through and Through (1973)
We’ll also be showing How to Live (1977) where Marcel Lozinski documents life at government-sponsored summer camp where couples learn to become the ideal communist family.
image from How to Live (1977)
In addition, we’ll show the short A Few Stories About a Man (1983) by Through and Through cinematographer Bogdan Dziworski, who directs a mysterious and mesmerizing portrait of a talented, armless man named Jerzy Orlowski.
image from A Few Stories About a Man (1983)
The full lineup will be announced on Wednesday, February 11.
In addition to film screenings, the festival will be publishing a monograph written by this year’s Neither/Nor curator Ela Bittencourt. Along with essays reflecting on the series’ films, the monograph features interviews with Królikiewicz, Lozinski, Dziworski, editor Agnieszka Bojanowska, Wardeszkiewicz and Drygas. Bittencourt is a freelance film and art critic whose writing has appeared in Artforum, Frieze Magazine, Cineaste, Film Quarterly and Reverse Shot, among other publications.
Neither/Nor is presented by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Now in its third edition, the series seeks to start a conversation about historical examples of chimeric cinema. The 2013 edition, curated by film writer Eric Hynes, looked at New York City chimeras from the 1960s, while the 2014 edition, curated by film critic and filmmaker Godfrey Cheshire, investigated Iranian cinema of the 1990s. You can read the 2013 monograph here and the 2014 monograph here.
For months now, the True/False production team has labored tirelessly in their secret lab, engineering the strange alternate universe we’ll all soon inhabit. Photographer Stephen Bybee recently gained access to their lair and brought back these mysterious images of the team at work and the weird objects they are creating. Take your first peek into the world of True/False 2015 as it comes into being.
We’re delighted to announce filmmaker Adam Curtis as the recipient of our 2015 True Vision Award in honor of his dedication to and advancement in the field of nonfiction filmmaking. Curtis has a long-standing relationship with the Fest, starting with his appearance in 2005 with The Power of Nightmares and again in 2010 with It Felt Like a Kiss. He’ll be in-person again this year presenting his new film Bitter Lake as well as some other selections.
Over the course of a 20-plus year career at the BBC, Curtis has refined and perfected a unique cinematic approach to history’s savage ironies. His perennial concern is power, specifically the ability to warp systems of thought intended for understanding the world into tools utilized for controlling it, with unpredictable results. His incisive, frequently audacious films, commonly narrated by Curtis himself, combine original interviews with an unmatched command of archival material. Curtis repurposes existing bits of audio and video from the massive BBC archives into pointed direct citations, whimsical metaphors and abstract cinematic onslaughts. The result is a dreamlike atmosphere where everything we think we know feels suddenly uncertain.
Curtis first gained widespread acclaim for 1992’s Pandora’s Box: A Fable from the Age of Science, a six-part series examining the consequences of the failed technocratic management of society, comparing Soviet communism, cold war systems analysis and industrial agriculture’s introduction of the insecticide DDT.
His second major film was 1995’s The Living Dead: Three Films About the Power of the Past, which studies the exploitation of the history of the Second World War by multiple generations of British politicians.
In 2002 Curtis created the unforgettable Century of the Self, a four-part examination of psychoanalysis and its under-recognized role in the emergence of a public relations industry, which in turn came to dominate 20th century life.
image from Century of the Self
In The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (T/F 2005), Curtis traces parallel histories of neo-conservatism and radical Islamism, beginning from the fascinating biographies of the movements’ founders, Leo Strauss and Sayyid Qutb.
image from The Power of Nightmares
Curtis’ most radical experiment, It Felt Like A Kiss (T/F 2010), was originally conceived as an installation piece in collaboration with theatre company Punchdrunk. This work drops Curtis’ trademark narration for simple, declarative onscreen text and confronts the viewer with images of America’s cultural and political dominion, presented as the fragments of a fading dream set to infectious pop music.
image from It Felt Like a Kiss
2011 saw the release of Curtis’ All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, a three-part film exploring the political implications of misguided techno-utopianism, Ayn Rand’s dedicated circle of followers and a cynical, biological understanding of human motivation.
image from All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace
In 2013 he collaborated with the band Massive Attack on a mixed media project Everything is Going According to Plan. Also well worth visiting is Curtis’ blog “The Medium and the Message” which like his films draws clips from the BBC archives to reexamine the way we view the world.
Curtis’ new film, Bitter Lake, takes its title from a fateful meeting in February 1945 between president Franklin D Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia on the “bitter lake” of the Suez Canal. Curtis argues a deal struck during their meeting set the course for much of the rest of the 20th century, particularly in the nation of Afghanistan.
Image from Bitter Lake
The True Vision Award is the only award given out at the Fest, this year with the support of Restoration Eye Care. Curtis is the twelfth recipient of the True Vision Award. Each year, the award has been designed and cast in bronze by mid-Missouri sculptor Larry Young. Past winners include Laura Poitras, James Marsh, Victor Kossakovsky and Amir Bar-Lev.
Get into the T/F state of mind with over 120 films from True/False past available to stream for free on our newly revised and expanded video page. Films now feature descriptions along with links to essays and filmmaker interviews to further inform your viewing. You can use the categories function on the left of the screen to sort by the year the film played the Fest or by shorts or features. These films are gathered from a variety of sites which legally stream docs, including Vimeo, YouTube, Hulu, SnagFilms, Crackle, P.O.V. and The National Film Board of Canada’s online archive. If you are outside the US, access will vary based on the hosting site, but you should still be able to find plenty of interesting docs to explore.
Presenting the True/False 2015 Poster! It’s designed by long-time T/F collaborator Erik Buckham with a drawing by artist Akiko Stehrenberger. As part of this year’s exploration of time, we decided to feature a creature known for its longevity. Check it out!
We are proud to announce Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence as this year’s recipient of the True Life Fund.
The True Life Fund offers support to a film’s subjects in appreciation of their choice to share their stories with audiences. The Look of Silence‘s subject, Adi Rukun, bravely challenged Indonesia’s collective silence by speaking out about the atrocities committed against his family during the Indonesian genocide that took place during 1965 and 1966. His steady, calm confronting of men responsible for the death of his brother stands as an exemplary display of bravery. This act of courage has forced his family to relocate in order to avoid backlash. Funds raised through the True Life Fund will assist Adi and his family in their relocation process.
Adi Rukun in The Look of Silence
The Look of Silence is the companion film to The Act of Killing (T/F 2013) which will also screen at this year’s Fest in its extended director’s cut. Together, the two films complete an incredible eleven-year project exploring the Indonesian genocide and the horrifying shadow it continues to cast over that nation’s culture and politics. Unlike other mass killings, the perpetrators of Indonesia’s anti-communist purges remain part of the power structure with their crimes officially excused or even celebrated, making Oppenheimer’s present tense investigation indispensable. These two films bring energetic innovation and flawless craft to this stunningly under-reported story.
Image from The Look of Silence
Director Joshua Oppenheimer will be in-person at all screenings. We’re also working to bring Adi to Columbia, but, due to the film’s highly charged content, his international travel is being curtailed and he may not be able to leave Indonesia.
We’d like to thank The Crossing, a local Columbia church, for their continued partnership. The Crossing will be sponsoring the True Life Fund for the eighth time this year. The Fund itself is comprised of thousands of small, individual gifts, matched through a grant from the Bertha Foundation. We hope to raise more than $20,000 for Adi and his family.
The Look of Silence is the ninth True Life Fund film. Last year, Cynthia Hill’s Private Violence received the True Life Fund. The fund was split between domestic violence survivor Deanna Walters and advocate Kit Gruelle.