(True Vision honouree Victor Kossakovksy and True/False co-conspirator David Wilson parade in Columbia…Paul Sturtz is T/F’s other conspiracy honcho)
One often encounters the term “managing expectations” applied to the psychology of working with young filmmakers. I was thinking about that dire phrase going into my first True/False Film Festival this past weekend. It couldn’t possibly be as stupendously magical as EVERYBODY who has ever attended this Columbia, Missouri based film festival has proclaimed. I would need to manage my expectations. Yet, despite self-applying this mental voodoo, I can attest that True/False is stupendously magical. It is, in fact, the perfect film festival, and any list of the “world’s best film festivals” would be incomplete without its presence.
Like all great festivals, T/F spins upon a thoughtful curatorial core: smart, rigorous, playful and democratic in taste. And not too big, but still expansive for a four day event. There were essentials from the current doc fest circuit (THE AMBASSADOR, DETROPIA, THE IMPOSTER, MARINA ABROMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT, SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN) and a few docs that were new to me (GOING UP THE STARS, HERMAN’S HOUSE, SUMMER OF GIACOMO). There was also at least one extraordinary disovery to add to the year’s “best of” list (ONLY THE YOUNG)….and then some that I can’t tell you about, but wish I could. These colour-coded “secret screenings” are a concession to a few premiere-greedy events that follow True/False. However, as modest as Team T/F are about their own standing on the festival food chain, I can’t see how subsequent events can insist on the accommodation for much longer. To deprive a filmmaker the opportunity to openly present their film at True/False is a demand that no filmmaker (or distributor) should accept. It’s the most filmmaker friendly experience on the festival circuit.
Columbia is a town that adores filmmakers, treats them like celebrities, and approaches their work with the intelligence, curiosity and generosity that the T/F programme deserves. The people of Columbia are hugely invested, engaged and proud of their local jewel of a fest, and shows it by having an f’in parade (which gave me inexplicable joy). And the whole weekend felt like a celebration, which is what a festival should feel like. Oh yeah, there’s also great music, a brilliantly entertaining game show (Gimme Truth!), a storytelling event (Campfire Stories), and dancing ’til dawn.
I’m a strong proponent of the need for festivals to return reciprocal value to the filmmakers whose work they present. There are different ways of negotiating and measuring this reciprocation, and then there is the gift economy in which festivals like True/False function. There is something that is priceless happening in Columbia, Missouri.