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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *