True/False: Experience with Fest: 6-time volunteer, 1st time Queen, longtime attendee

Submitted by Abbie Brown

I was a Queen at the True/False Film Festival this year!  That might sound like a pageant title, but it’s actually the name of one of the volunteer roles within the festival.  Queens are flamboyantly-costumed volunteers who work at each of the film venues, run the ticket lines, and answer questions from attendees.  They are a very visible part of the festival, but they are only one role of the dozens and dozens of volunteer roles that are needed to make this nonprofit festival run.  This was my first year as a Queen, but I’ve been volunteering with the festival since 2010 in a number of different roles.

The True/False Film Festival is an amazing experience.  It’s not just a great opportunity to see world-class documentary film (brand new films, straight out of Sundance), but it’s also a homegrown, locally-run, nonprofit festival full of art, music, food, and friendly people.  It’s totally unique in that way, and it’s gained a big reputation among filmmakers and critics as a place where film takes precedence (not celebrity and fame).  Filmmakers come from all over the world to be part of this!

I have attended the festival as a passholder and I have seen lots of great films, but the volunteer experience is the reason that True/False is my favorite weekend of the year.  I keep increasing my volunteer time and responsibilities and, as a result, I only see one film each year at most.  But I’ll get to see the films later.  True/False, for me, is a time to be fully immersed in helping the festival run.  More than 800 people volunteer for the festival every year, from high school students to retirees.  They run the venues, the box office, and the merch tables.  They create art, music, parades, and food.  They haul trash, build and break down venue decorations.  They come from Columbia and St. Louis and even far out of town- I met one volunteer this weekend who travels here from Seattle just to volunteer.  And the festival is worth it- organizing and treating volunteers really well!  Happy, knowledgeable volunteers add to the spirit and energy of the festival.

If you’ve never attended True/False before, I hope you’ll put it on your to-do list.  Come and see the March March parade, or just walk around town and enjoy the good vibes.  But if you want to see a film, you do not need a reserved ticket or a festival pass to see one!  For many films (especially daytime screenings), you can just walk in and pay at the door.  It’s a little more complicated than that, but feel free to contact me and I’ll walk you through the process.  I love True/False.


True/False: A Non-Filmie’s Experience

Submitted by Rachel Brekhus

In an average year my husband and I probably see about three movies. That’s three movies total, counting trips to the theater, DVD’s…well, we don’t do Netflix. I wouldn’t recognize Robert Downey Jr. or Jennifer Lawrence if I saw them on the street. I only know those names by Googling “most popular actors 2015.” But between Friday March 4 and Sunday March 6, we saw 10 movies (more, if you count the group of short films we viewed on Sunday night as separate films). A few years ago, we were people who waited in line after the people who’d bought passes, and picked up tickets to two or three films showing at convenient times. The pass system seemed too complicated and hey, like I said, we are hardly the cineaste type. But after a while, people just kept talking about the great documentaries they’d seen, that we hadn’t seen. We felt like we were missing out on really good movies about real people and events, so 3 years ago, we entered the world of the $90, 10-film Simple Pass, earning the dubious privilege of walking around town all weekend long with a an MU Health Care-branded lanyard bearing a big read tag that read “SIMPLE.”

The way this pass works is, you buy the passes sometime in January or February, when you don’t yet know what all the films are going to be. The schedule of films comes out around February 10, and on the Sunday evening two weeks before the festival (February 21 this year), a website opens up where Simple pass holders can log in and start reserving the ten film reservations their passes entitle them to. My spouse tells me that the experience is a bit like a fantasy football draft  in that it helps a lot to have looked at the list of films and synopses, and developed a ranked list of films to reserve ahead of time, on the assumption that you are aiming to get a good fraction of the films you want, and there will be some films you jump on faster than others. Most films show at three different times and/or venues, and the more expensive levels of passes let you pick tickets first, so some screenings will be “NRT” (“no reserved tickets”) and unavailable to holders of the humble Simple Passes, for whom the online system opens up. Once you’ve made your film reservations, though, you are home free.  No more decisions are necessary from this point forward. The week of the Fest, a box office opens, and you pick up your laminated Simple tag and lanyard, and your envelope full of 10 tickets per person.  Technically, your pass even allows you to see more than just those 10 films, because there’s also a system whereby people can “queue” for film showings that still have seats left after the ticket holders have been seated. Wayne and I have never actually done this, preferring the security and relative lack of line-standing of having reserved tickets, but many people manage to get into good films this way.

Why go through all of the steps to get passes and tickets to this huge number of films?  Because True/False is beautiful and magical. It starts with the physical decorations of places and people. The 1000+ volunteers are not uniformed but rather, identifiable because they are wearing costumes. There are pieces of art placed around town, just for the festival. They stand inside or outside of film venues, or they hang on walls, or are even projected onto them as gorgeous moving images, like the giant birds and fish and children made of light, projected across the walls of the Methodist church whose gymnasium was converted to a theater for the weekend. Musicians, when not busking inside the venues before films, can often be heard just doing their thing out on the streets between shows. It really is a festival, not just a whole lot of films. Inside the theater venues, the buskers play genres of live music that you may or may not normally seek out, but they sound great in this setting. Sometimes they tell the stories behind the songs. The “ringleader” for that film then comes onstage, briefly introduces the director of the film and reminds you that there will be a Q/A with them afterward, thanks some of the sponsors, and gushes a little about the movie. The lights go down. Instead of endless previews for other films, let alone ads, there is a short “bumper,” which changes each day of the festival but is the same within each day. The “bumpers” are tied to the festival theme – this year’s was “Get Off the Trail” – and always seem to involve gorgeous visuals of Missouri rural landscapes. Then there’s the film, and after that, the live Q/A with the director, and if you’re lucky, one or more of the people depicted in the film are also in attendance.  Wayne and I agreed that watching the rolling credits for the movie Sonita, which featured Sonita Alizadeh’s powerful rap performance of “Brides for Sale” as background music…and then watching the lights come up to reveal a live Sonita Alizadeh, performing the entire piece right in front of us…was the most amazing True/False moment in all the years we’ve attended the Fest. I still get shivers just thinking about it.

At this point, I could review some of the films I saw, which all ranged from very good to excellent this year, and more uplifting than depressing, despite some “heavy” subject matter in some of them, but instead I’ll leave you with the general themes that ran through many of the movies I saw.

  1. The world’s injustices range from the personal (abuse within families that goes unheard or doubted) to the institutional (high fines and jail time for “offenses” like not having a trash can lid all the way down for people in the “wrong” neighborhoods) to the large-scale (war and resulting displacement, devastation and waste).
  2. Drugs make things worse, and take away humanity.
  3. Music can make things better, and add humanity.
  4. Traditions and shared culture can be forces for both good and evil, strength and oppression.

So really, to like this festival, the main thing is to be open to being placed into the eyes and the mindspace of other people. You have to trust that most or all the films you see will enrich your experience of life in some way. They may make you think, and they will almost certainly make you feel, and all of this will happen in the company of many other people together. It’s an experience that even the most non-filmgoing person out there has come to look forward to every year.

More Movies for Book Lovers

This weekend is the True/False documentary film festival here in Columbia. Will you be attending? Or will you be staying in with a good book or perhaps a good movie? If the latter is your preference, you might wish to check out this nice list of films featuring libraries and librarians.

I'm partial to The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (and its spinoff TV series), Where the Heart Is (and the novel it's based on), and The Breakfast Club. Do you have any favorites?