Day 2 comes to a close in Columbia, Missouri at the constantly surprising True/False Film Festival.
I flew into St. Louis yesterday afternoon and muddled through the horrific St. Louis suburban traffic (I know people say that traffic in LA is terrible, but I have always thought that the St. Louis traffic was the worst ever - and I grew up there - you just sit and sit and sit and then suddenly an hour later you are moving, with no sign or evidence of the thing that caused you to stop in the first place). Arrived in Columbia early yesterday evening, in time to have dinner with a pair of old friends and attend the opening night party - held in a converted bakery.
When I came back to Columbia in 2003 to screen Gigantic at the Ragtag Cinemacafe, I wondered if Columbia would have lost some of it's luster. I had such fond feelings for the place (having gone to school here) and I didn't want to be disappointed. But I was so blown away by what was happening at the Ragtag - here was a storefront that had been filled with old sofas (wine, beer and hummus sold up front) where they screened basically every major art film - stuff that never makes it to St. Louis or Kansas City, much less Columbia. It was warm and welcoming and I really fell in love with what the Ragtag kids (they aren't really kids, except in spirit, except in that "let's put on a show" way).
So when I found out they wanted to do a documentary film fest, I was into it from the beginning. Particularly their take on the fest - examining not just the "truth" of non-fiction, but also the "false". Missouri's Journalism School (of which I am a graduate), which taught me piously of staying objective (impossible) seemed to be begging for such a festival, such an examination of truth and fiction (literally) at their back door.
Finally, 2 1/2 years later, here I am back in Columbia, witnessing their 3rd incarnation of True/False and seeing what has quickly become one of the five most important documentary festivals in the country (and rising fast).
I saw four films today, two that I had missed at Sundance 2005 (The Devil and Daniel Johnston and Why We Fight) and 2 that I missed at Sundance 2006 (Black Gold and This Film is Not Yet Rated). True/False is not a competitive fest and they aren't, like some festivals, feverishly trying to lock up a certain number of premieres. There are some films screening here for the first time, many of them on the down low so that they can have "official" premieres at South By Southwest or other festivals in the coming months. Its timing, right after Sundance and Berlin, is either it's greatest strength (there are several films coming here directly from Park City) or detriment (some filmmakers may think, I just played SUNDANCE, I can't go to Columbia, Missouri, where the hell is that?)
Local reporter and blogger Pete Bland reports that filmmakers of the latter stripe may want to hear from the director of last night's opening film The Heart of the Game:
Like Kevin Macdonald ("Touching the Void") and Dana
Adam Shapiro ("Murderball') before him, "The Heart of
the Game" helmer Ward Serrill seemed genuinely floored
by getting the opportunity to share his documentary with
1,200 people at the Missouri Theatre.
You read that right - 1,200 people at a documentary screening (sold out, standing room only, people turned away) in the middle of Missouri. It happened again tonight for Why We Fight...
Serrill, who no doubt serendipitously has hit the doc
jackpot with his movie, elicited a roar when he introduced
"Game" by saying, "This is the smallest town ... and the
biggest theater" in which the film has and — in the case of
the theater at least — perhaps will be played. He added
that when True/False co-organizer Paul Sturtz began trying
to convince him to come to Columbia, his response was,
"Where's that?" "I'm glad I found out," he followed.
After "Game" closed to a standing ovation, a somewhat
stunned Serrill opened his Q&A with "Columbia, Missouri,
More later on the movies I saw today and the other T/F happenings plus a full report on tomorrow's panel that I am moderating on music documentaries.
But for now, after the four movies, two parties, one game show (really), meeting the mayor (I had a crush on the old one), one concert and many drinks, it's time for sleep.