Columbia is the hotbed of a growing documentary film industry

Friday, March 7, 2008 | 3:00 p.m. CST; updated 4:19 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Columbia has a growing documentary film industry, as evidenced by the recent True/False Film Festival. Here are three local filmmakers and their projects.

Brock Williams, 26, executive producer and owner of Boxcar Films

Williams moved to Columbia after receiving his degree in electronic media-radio, TV, and video production from Harding University in Arkansas. He started out working for Homefront productions on a nationally syndicated home improvement TV show, then moved to freelance work full time.

“I wanted to do it ever since I was a kid,” Williams said. “I was doing films all through high school. Even before that, all I’ve wanted to do ever since I can remember is freelance or actually have my own production company.”

In 2005, he started Boxcar Films. Now eight people work for him, and the staff is growing.

His days are unpredictable at best, but always busy.

“When I started working with Homefront, it was kind of a 9-to-5 job,” he said. “I’m not suited for that because I get really bored.”

One of his documentaries, “Fuad,” profiles an artist from Kurdistan who moved from Iraq to Florence, Italy, two decades ago. When Saddam Hussein came to power, art was outlawed and Fuad could not return home because of the political turmoil.

Williams’ plan for Boxcar is to get to the point where the team can spend more time on creative projects such as documentaries and short films. Until then, they will continue to do corporate projects and commercials.

“That is the type of work that brings in the money,” Williams said.

You can catch Boxcar Films’ newest project, “Box Elder,” tonight at Ragtag.

Paul Robinson, 36, founder of EZ Productions

Originally from Cardiff, Wales, Robinson came to Missouri by way of a one-year university exchange program between his school at home, Glamorgan, and University of Central Missouri (formerly Central Missouri State).

One month before he was due to return to Wales, he met his wife. They spent their last year of school together in Wales, returned to Missouri to get married and have been here ever since.

Documentary filmmaking about the paranormal began when Robinson bought a video camera with night shot.

“My buddy says to me, let’s go to a graveyard and shoot a ghost. He doesn’t tell me that him and his family have been sensitive to this paranormal activity for generations back,” Robinson said.

Off he went with few expectations. At the graveyard they walked on a pathway toward a statue of the Virgin Mary with her hands up and began to tape.

Robinson said he was startled when he felt something brush up against his leg. The camera began to blur, but he blamed it on the humidity.

It happened again. The camera was on auto focus, so something entering the field of view would blur.

Problem was: No one was standing between the statue and the camera.

That night, Robinson became a believer in paranormal activity.

In November 2006, he started EZ Productions in Columbia after producing a few documentaries on the paranormal. He teamed up with Dr. Gary Hawkins of Alton, Ill., a paranormal expert who claims to catch spirits with his bare hands.

Their first project, “The Spirit of the Rockliffe Mansion,” investigated paranormal activity in the Rockliffe Mansion in Hannibal, Mo. Robinson, Hawkins, and three volunteers who responded to an ad on Craigslist stayed overnight at the mansion.

Robinson said Hawkins immediately got a strange vibe on the third step of the staircase. He felt the room was filled with people.

No one on the team was familiar with the mansion, but the receptionist later told them Mark Twain had stood on that very same step to speak to a room full of people.

Family and friends have been skeptical but Robinson continues his work.

“I’m not going to let people bully me into not doing this. What’s worse is other ghost hunters who are jealous who say that’s crap, it’s fake, you photo-shopped that,” he said.

His most recent project is taking place at the Kemper Military Base in Boonville. A TV pilot is also in the works to take place at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

The Dead of Winter Film Festival in Decatur, Ill., showed “The Spirit of The Rockliffe Mansion.”

Nate Truesdell, 28, freelance documentary filmmaker

Truesdell graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in computer science, but he also has an interest in art.

Filmmaking gives Truesdell the opportunity to pursue both interests, working in editing, sound, directing and photography.

With approximately 10 films under his belt, he has participated in three Gimme Truth competitions at Columbia’s True/False Film Festival, has films on Current TV, and works at Boxcar Films.

“I have been doing film-related stuff since I was 15,” he said.

One of his solo projects was based on local artist Paul Jackson, who designed the Missouri commemorative state quarter for the U.S. Mint.

Truesdell finds his ideas in everyday life and believes documentary filmmaking gives him an opportunity to tell the story from his point of view.

This is also the most difficult part for him.

“There are a lot of aspects you can’t control,” he said. “You have to go with the flow and see what happens.”

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