When the True/False Film Festival invited me to check out their annual event in Columbia, Missouri – my response was probably not something they’re used to hearing. “Sure, but just so you know – I watched no more than three movies all of last year”
It’s not that I don’t enjoy films. I do. But, finding films that can keep my attention is difficult. More than 40 films were available to view at this year’s festival and I selected a handful that piqued my interest.
True/False is spread out around downtown Columbia with various venues showcasing the films as well as musicians and Q&A segments following the screening. You select your films ahead of time, taking into account the walking distance between venues. With my tickets, I received the “Little Black Book” – which included a grid that told me the approximate walking times.
It’s a pretty well-oiled machine with most things running pretty smoothly. Some of the films were shown in places like the Missouri Theater or Jesse Auditorium on the University of Missouri campus which made for top-notch screening venues.
All of the locations were easy to find, even in the bone-chilling temperatures that descended on mid-Missouri during the festivities.
More than 1,000 films were submitted to the organizers for potential screenings. One of the requirements to participate is that someone involved in the production must attend – either in person, or via Skype. This adds an interesting touch to the program with the audience getting to ask questions about what they just viewed and hear some “behind the scenes” perspective. Of the four films I viewed – all but one had in-person Q&A, while Director Todd Douglas Miller (Apollo 11) skyped in from another screening in New York City.
All of Columbia gets involved with the festival as most restaurants and even some gift shops offered discounts to attendees. Having not been in Columbia for awhile – it was great to see how many dining options and fun shops and art galleries were spread around downtown. College towns tend to have a particular “buzz” and this was no different.
Locals and visitors can buy individual tickets to the films or opt for a pass that allows you to pick and choose as many as you’d like to see. The die-hard film lovers stayed up until the wee hours cramming in as many titles as they could, while others take a more conservative approach and want to be in bed before 11. (I’ll let you ponder a guess which group I fit into.)
So you’re probably wondering – just what films did I wind up screening? The good news is – of the four I viewed, three of them were absolutely fantastic. However, one was absolutely horrible.
AMAZING GRACE – This was the first film I viewed during the festival. It’s a documentary of Aretha Franklin recording a gospel album in a Los Angeles church in the early 1970’s. Unfortunately, the director (at the time) forgot to bring clappers to mark the audio – so all of the footage sat un-used for more than 40 years.
It was an incredible reminder of Aretha Franklin’s effortless and powerful voice. The laid back church setting was also interesting to watch. The music and energy was off the charts. Coincidentally, the album they recorded in the church sold more than 2 million copies making it one of the most successful gospel albums ever.
APOLLO 11 – My second film was probably my favorite of the bunch. The 70mm images of the Apollo 11 mission, from start to finish were insanely cool to see on the big screen. There have been movies made by Hollywood with computer generated graphics and scenes produced on sound stages – but nothing compares to the actual images of space and of course the moon.
My biggest question (which wasn’t really answered) was where has this amazing footage been all of these years? NASA and National Archives have maintained it but the fact that it took this long to get it into the public view is a shame. Either way, it’s raw, quite humorous at times, and makes you proud to be an American. Best part is there’s no announcer or story teller – you just sit back and watch the historic event unfold.
THE COMMONS – This documentary followed protests at the University of North Carolina (UNC) while students were trying to have a confederate statue removed from campus. For about 90 minutes, the entire film showcased (mostly) students screaming obscenities at anyone that disagreed with them, harassing police officers, and labeling anyone that happened to see things differently – racist. Someone nearby in the crowd mumbled “Do these kids ever go to class?”
In a room of a couple hundred, there were some sympathetic viewers that applauded at the actions of the protesters college. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with standing up against racism, but the film (and protests) failed to show how campus life was seriously hostile because of a statue that hundreds of thousands of previous students lived with over the years. The filmmaker missed an opportunity to illustrate the importance of dialogue and how screaming curse words is not debate and won’t convert a single person to your point of view.
Overall, the viewing room was mostly silent and the mass exit once the credits started to roll (even though there was a producer ready to take Q&A) was a pretty good indication I was far from alone in my review.
I asked a fellow travel writer sitting next to me, “did you learn a single thing from that?” She responded “Not a thing”. We both walked out and looked for Advil to cure our headaches.
MIKE WALLACE IS HERE – This was my final film of the festival and thank God it ended on a high note. I’m a bit of an old soul and I always enjoyed the work of Mike Wallace from 60 Minutes. Sadly, nothing compares to his hard hitting journalism today. (I mean, Anderson Cooper? Seriously?)
The filmmaker worked with CBS to acquire hours and hours of footage from every interview Wallace ever conducted including never before seen video. Instead of telling a story with a narrator or captions – the footage just sort of speaks for itself.
The best line of the film was from fellow 60 Minutes alum Morley Safer who once interviewed his television co-anchor. “Mike, why are you such a prick?”
True/False Film Festival is held each year during the last week of February. For more information or to buy tickets: https://truefalse.org/