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True False Film Festival has truly arrived

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 26, 2013 - For many St. Louisans, the sight of felt tiger tails flapping from the backside of cars zipping down Interstate 70 means they are approaching Columbia. Immediately the association is Mizzou and sports, but once a year this college town plays host to what many feel is the premiere documentary festival in the world: The True/False Film Festival.

Using the easy logistics and strong community spirit of downtown Columbia, festival founders Paul Sturtz and David Wilson began True/False 10 years ago and it has done nothing but grow in size and influence.

In addition to showing docs fresh from Sundance, Toronto and other respected festivals, True/False has a full lineup of music, filmmaker panels and parties to celebrate excellence in non-fiction creative film. According to Cliff Froehlich, executive director of Cinema St. Louis and a regular attendee of True/False, the festival is “a perfect storm of interest” with audiences ranging from university students, cinephiles, curious Columbia residents and those connected to the industry.


For tickets and more information, go to truefalse.org/

“Documentary makers love it because they get full houses. And for those in the area, it’s THE THING to do – with the strong international presence and a mixture of high profile and boutique docs at True/False, the festival allows the casual movie-goer to dabble in a type of film they might not normally explore.”

The festival spans four days (Feb. 28-March 3) and eight venues including the intriguingly named (and historied) Odd Fellows Lodge and Ragtag Cinema. Attendees can choose from a variety of passes that offer a peripheral or a totally immersive experience at True/False.

Froehlich suggests that True/False attendees also fit a secret screening in to their schedule, saying they are the most fun and never disappoint. Audiences have the chance to reach into a cinematic grab bag and view a doc before it has officially premiered. The only clue as to what they will watch before the theater lights go down is a vague one-sentence description. 

This spirit of curiosity and experimentation is expressed in many ways throughout the festival, including filmmaker panels, many of which are free and open to the public. One of these features 2008 Academy Award nominee Sarah Polley, who has effortlessly transferred from actor, to writer to narrative and documentary filmmaker. Her highly anticipated film, “The Stories We Tell” will be shown several times at True/False.

The festival recognizes that documentaries aren’t just visual threads of the larger human experience but that they have the ability to affect change in the world around us. In response to this sense of possibility and – ultimately - responsibility, True/False has set up the True Life Fund:

According to a press release, the movie that is selected as the True Life Fund film, gets help with raising money, conducting education outreach. Plus the fund donates money to people or organizations directly related to the film.

This year’s True Life Fund film is “Which Way is the Front Line from Here? The Life & Time of Tim Hetherington,” directed by Sebastian Junger as a memorial to his friend and colleague, Tim Hetherington. The two co-directed the 2010 Oscar nominated documentary, Restrepo. A short time later, Hetherington sustained shrapnel wounds from a mortar blast while covering the civil war in Libya and died en route to the hospital. According to the True/False website, funds from the True Life Fund will go to Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC) and the Milton Margai School for the Blind in Sierra Leone.

In addition to honoring the “non-fiction” aspect of documentaries by reaching past the screen and supporting the real life people and causes, True/False acknowledges the creative side of the genre with the True Vision Award. This year’s recipient is the visual jaw-dropper, Leviathan, the story of a commercial shipping vessel off the coast of Massachusetts - and one that the festival believes is a triumph of observational cinema.

Other highlights include such films as These Birds Walk, The Expedition to the End of the World, The Captain and His Pirate, The Garden of Eden, I am Breathing, and Sleepless Nights.

Festival passes and hotel rooms go quickly so if you plan to attend True/False, booking ahead is. For more information on passes, lodging, schedule, trailers and more: https://truefalse.org/attend/passes

Kara Vaninger is a freelance writer.