COLUMBIA — It seems like a typical Thursday night at Ragtag Cinema. Large groups are crowded around tables chatting, a woman sits by herself knitting and a couple shares a hummus plate at the bar.
But something is different. A TV with an antenna of woven branches sits at the entrance, displaying a painted True/False logo across a grainy screen.
The cafe is full of good spirits, and there is an extra energy in the room that Ragtag bartender Bill Bellinghausen can feel.
Thursday marked the opening night of the annual True/False Film Festival. For the first time since True/False started six years ago, there were 10 documentaries to see on Thursday night, regarded as the "soft" opening night for the four-day festival. Friday night is considered the kickoff.
Festival co-director Paul Sturtz said the reason for expanding the number of films on Thursday evening was to acknowledge that the festival has a growing audience and that he and co-director David Wilson didn't want to give preference to one of the films over others.
The unusual opening night appears to have been a success. Alicia Pierce, a first-time volunteer for the festival said that the first films — “Secret Screening Silver” and “Mosque in Morgantown"— were sold out.
Despite the growing popularity of the True/False film festival, the small-town feel of the festival remains.
Heather Croall, an Australian, traveled 40 hours to attend the festival. She feels that the festival is unique because of its atmosphere.
“True/False feels extra special because the whole city gets involved,” Croall said. “The intimacy of it all makes it feel like a true celebration of filmmakers.”
As the director of the Sheffield Doc/Fest in England, she came to support True/False directors Sturtz and Wilson, who both attended Sheffield.
“We are all a small family,” Croall said of international documentary filmmakers. “It’s a hard industry to survive in, so we have to support each other.”
If the festivalgoers at Ragtag seemed laid-back, the mood outside Windsor Auditorium, one of the three other True/False film locations, was a testament to the excitement the festival brings to Columbia. Volunteers and early arrivals could be seen milling about, putting the finishing touches on preparations and securing places in line.
Light and sound technicians Mitch Sawicki and Doug Sonnenberg have been preparing for this year’s film festival since last year’s ended. However, the real work of transforming Windsor Auditorium began this week.
“We’ve been all over the place,” Sonnenberg said.
The two have been working to ensure that moviegoers get the full True/False experience. For opening night, Windsor Cinema hosted the four films nominated for the Academy Award for the Documentary Short.
Macklanburg Cinema was also bustling with activity as festival attendees chatted, laughed and drank while awaiting the start of director Dan Stone’s documentary, “At the Edge of the World."
Mary Ellen Ankeney, a third year veteran of True/False could barely contain her excitement for the festival.
“I’m pumped, I’m psyched, and I’m obsessed!” Ankeney said. “It’s almost like an illness.”
Missourian reporters Brynn McIsaac, Drew Orozco and Kaitlin Warner contributed to this report.