Amidst a chaotic constitutional crisis in our country, we tried to calmly, obliviously plan this year’s festival. But like most people, we felt a bellyful of emotions during these blustery, bellicose times. Filtering out each new outrage and alert challenged us daily. Every political, civic, and cultural asset felt under assault, and the Fest often seemed trivial by comparison.

Despairing, deflated, our staff met for Monday coffees, seeking solace in shared space. One ritual became the weekly reading of The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. We first reviewed the noble gases, many which intersect the rich history of cinema: xenon and argon lamps for projectors, neon signs for marquees. The solid metal gallium, which melts in our hands, felt strangely resonant. Somehow, focusing on the periodic table had a calming effect.

Ninety-nine percent of matter in the universe is hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. That makes the other 115 elements pretty scarce. Finding them has taken scientists a few hundred years. To us, it feels a bit like magic — separating parts per million of xenon from the ether. But that ability to observe what the rest of us miss? That’s what nonfiction filmmakers do as well. They filter out the noise (and yes, the fake news) and make the unseen tangible. And their extraordinary films ground us in more enduring values. Our True Vision honoree Claire Simon excels at revealing humanity — whether in a bureaucratic institution or on a tumultuous playground. True Life Fund film Quest affirms that family and community can sustain us through tough times.

Quest also reminds us not to let art fall by the wayside when things look bleak. Art is essential in all of its forms, and we need it more than ever to lift us up and help interpret a world turned upside down.

It’s not for us to be optimistic or pessimistic but, in true Midwestern fashion, to roll up our sleeves and do the work. When all the elements — volunteers, staff, sponsors, guests, and attendees — come together, the compounds formed are mighty. That’s the True/False community, and that’s the reactive core of this weekend. Thanks for being part of it.


Paul Sturtz and David Wilson