COLUMBIA — Robert Sarazin Blake was playing a show in Kansas City when someone gave him a phone number and insisted he make a stop in Columbia. At that stop, the singer and guitarist ended up at a kitchen table for three hours drinking Kahlua and coffee, waiting for the living room to fill with people so he could play his first show in Columbia at a house party.
That was 10 years ago and since then Blake, 31, of Bellingham, Wash., has traveled through Columbia several times, making friends and landing a gig as a performer at this year's True/False Film Festival.
“Hello, Columbia, Missouri! Are you ready to folk?” Blake yelled out to the crowd at the start of his set for the festival’s Friday night music showcase at the Cherry Street Artisan.
The event, “Vidas and Razos,” featured five traveling songwriters, including Blake, Steve Carell, Brody Douglas Hunt, Run on Sentence and Malone. Although the point of the annual True/False Film Festival is to showcase documentaries, it creates plenty of opportunities for other artistic vision and expression.
“It’s very weird being a musician at a film festival, but it’s cool, they make a place for it and it’s fun," Blake said Friday night before the show began. "You can’t look at it the same way as you would a proper gig because people are there for the films and so you are really playing a supporting role.
"I think it’s good for us musicians to be forced to play supporting roles sometimes — (we’re) so self-absorbed,” he joked.
Hunt, 25, of Port Townsend, Wash., has been a part of the festival for three years. Saturday afternoon, as he sat in the Ragtag Cinema, at the center of True/False mania in his baby-blue Western-themed clothes, he laughed and described himself as “America’s favorite yodeling pervert.”
“I play old honky-tonk country music, and I write songs that are kind of in that vain," Hunt added more seriously. "I just play country. It’s the only thing I know how to do musically.”
Although he plays acoustic guitar and can “fake his way around” some other instruments, Hunt primarily considers himself a singer and yodeler. Festival musicians can be found performing before several of the film screenings, Hunt said. Separate from the films, they are each showcased during an event such as “Vidas and Razos.”
In addition to music events, art installations can be found around Columbia’s downtown area as part of the festival, including two photo displays “On the Road: Campaign ‘08” by Brett Marty at the Artisan and “The Quite Strange Photographs of Avery Danziger” by Danziger at Windsor Cinema.
Festival-goers can choose to either appreciate or participate in these art installations. With a photo booth set up at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts and a “video confessional” at Windsor Cinema, all are potential contributors in this weekend of artistic expression.
Artist Sara Mercer, 26 and formerly of Jefferson City, has lived in Columbia for nine years. She has volunteered with True/False for the last two years, helping out with art projects for the festival. She asked for more work this year and has had to pull a couple of all-nighters to finish one of the festival’s more dominant pieces: a technological tree.
Mercer estimated the tree, which is displayed at the Missouri Theatre, stands 12 feet tall. She explained she was inspired by the concept of “organic technology” and described it as “being consumed by technological waste.”
Mercer, who has been drawing and painting for as long as she can remember, showed off her blistered and cut hands and said this was her first large sculptural art work.
“It’s amazing to me that a few weeks ago all it was was just a sketch and now it actually exists," Mercer said after pointing out the sketch in her planner. "It’s very exciting.”
Most of the things on the tree are from an estate sale advertised as “free-for-all.” Mercer said the house was full of dusty, old junk that people were running through the house going crazy for.
“They wouldn’t even let you in the house without taking a trash bag and promising to fill it up, so it was perfect,” Mercer said.
Mercer has four other pieces displayed as part of the festival. One is at the Ragtag, two are at Macklanburg Playhouse and one is at the base of her technological tree at Missouri Theatre. All four pieces follow the same “organic technology” concept and show an aged TV, painted with the True/False logo, atop a tree stump.
The tree stumps were made from concrete forms, chicken wire, grocery bags and papier-mache. She was able to get the TVs for free, except for one she bought from Habitat for Humanity for 40 cents.
“It’s harder than you think to find those old, tacky, faux-wood '80s televisions,” Mercer said, laughing.
Although she was too busy finishing the project to catch any documentaries Thursday and Friday night, Mercer said she plans to catch a couple films, relax and enjoy the different things events, artistic or otherwise, the festival has to offer.
“I’m grateful that the festival gave me an opportunity to attempt something like this,” Mercer said, “and for all art forms to participate.”