I had heard about Columbia’s True/False Film Festival for years, but since it wasn’t anywhere near my neck of the woods I never got around to going. Plus, in all honesty, I thought it might be a bit “intellectually heavy” to sit through four days of documentaries.
Fast-forward to my return from last week’s T/F festival and damn, am I ever glad I went. It’s a Shangri-la for film lovers!
I’d strongly suggest that right this minute, no procrastinating, you put next year’s dates on the calendar, March 1-4, 2018. They will be celebrating their 15th year and so it’s going to be a doozy!
Here is my True/False list of reasons to go:
1. The midwestern college town of Columbia is the perfect spot for this festival. I felt like I was an extra in an updated, cool remake of “Our Town” where everyone knows their nabes and rallies around them. Case in point: This year they had almost 1,000 volunteers happily working their butts off to make sure things ran smoothly and with 37 feature films, 22 short films, 12 concerts, 5 parties, 52,400 tickets sold, 72 filmmakers, and 142 musicians to manage, that’s no small feat. As a matter of fact, it might make a good film doc! There was a palpable buzz running through town as attendees darted from one movie venue to another (all within easy walking/fast running distance) stopping only to exchange a quick “Whaddya see?” in passing.
2. It turned out that four days of documentary film binging was still not enough (even though I was sitting through 5-6 films a day) when you are seeing films at this level of excellence. Some are fresh from the Sundance and Toronto Film Fest circuits while others were making their USA or even World premier. I keep flashing back to my favorite films like Dina, a beautifully touching, intimate film about the upcoming marriage of a mentally challenged couple.
I really was not looking forward to Casting JonBenet, since I thought I already knew everything about this horrific crime, but I was absolutely mesmerized by director Kitty Green’s creative mash-up of this sensational case.
And then there was Quest, which was shot by director Jon Olshefski over the course of a decade, where we follow the hope, dreams, trials and tribulations of an African-American family in North Philadelphia. Quest was the recipient of this year’s True Life Fund that raises money for the subjects of a documentary playing at the True/False Film Fest.
3. Unique special events play an important role in the success of the festival.
These include crazy-fun parties like The March March Parade (think zany Halloween costumes meets Easter parade), Reality Bites, a lively crush of peeps noshing on hors d’oeuvres provided by a range of local restaurants, and the eagerly awaited “Gimme Truth”, a hysterical knock-off of the “What’s My Line “ game show, which features different filmmakers and LOTS of alcohol!
On a more grown-up note one of the best parts of T/F is the directors Q&A session that follows each film, where you can ask any burning questions such as, “What was the budget for your film?” or “Did the actors know beforehand that they were going to be asked to take their clothes off?”
My “small world” side-story:
I really liked “The Cage Fighter”, the story of Joe Carman, a 40-year-old blue-collar, loving family man who risks everything (his health, his marriage, his daughters) to go back in the fighting cage. But I left the theater really upset with Joe because while I thought that deep down he was a really decent guy, he was going to blow it all for one more fight. Two nights later, I was on line to buy a smoothie and guess who was standing behind me? Joe! I barely recognized him because he looked so much healthier and about 15 years younger. When I told him how pissed I was at him, he cracked-up and then gave me a detailed update, just like we were old buds catching up. Not only had he quit fighting, but he had also won the custody battle for his daughters and was happily reunited with his wife. I left the café simply bursting with pride.
4. Love, love, love the Buskers component. M&M‘s (movies and music) makes such a perfect pairing that I don’t know why it isn’t being done everywhere. Instead of watching endless previews of upcoming attractions, festival-goers are entertained by diverse musicians ranging from a plaintive folk singer to an “art-rapper” to a full-fledged symphony.
1. T/F is just another pretentious film festival with sky-high ticket prices.
2. It’s virtually impossible to get into the movies you really want to see unless you bring a sleeping bag and camp out in front.
3. Most of the filmmakers simply phone it in and don’t bother to attend.
4. You’ll leave with gobs of swag.
5. Only the cool kids get invited to the best parties.
Now if all this doesn’t convince you to join me next year then check out True/False for more details.