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True/False offers intimacy other festivals lack

Sunday, March 1, 2009 | 5:27 p.m. CST; updated 12:36 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Film director Robert Kenner and discussion leader Jason Silverman listen to a question from an audience member during the Q&A following the showing of Kenner's film "Food, Inc." at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts during the True/False Film Festival. The film will open in New York and Los Angeles in late Spring.

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COLUMBIA - Red carpets. Limousines. Black-tie attire and borrowed jewelry. Interviews and the pop of the paparazzi's flash bulbs.

Queues of excited film-goers hope for an opportunity to get inside the venues. The lights dim, the projector whirs. Applause. Directors' statements. More applause.

These are the scenes one could expect from big-time, international film festivals. But how do the True/False staff roll out the red carpet for its notable guests? They don't. That's part of the reason the festival is so appealing to the directors who come.

Columbia's True/False Film Festival may not boast the glitz and glamour of an established jamboree like Sundance, but it offers something that the more prestigious festivals do not: intimacy among the filmmakers and the audience.

"The thing I love about Columbia, Mo., is that it's a college town with a lot of young people," said Molly Lynch, who co-directed "Big River Man" with her husband, John Maringouin. "They're all super hip, and that compared to New York or L.A. is very refreshing. They're not towing any party line. It's a scary audience, but a brilliant audience as well."

People flowed past Lynch as she spoke, rubbing shoulders with drinks in hand at a secret party for filmmakers, musicians and the select few guests who got on the list. The party began at 1 a.m. and lasted until 4 a.m. at The Mule Barn, a recently renovated historic building just outside The District, at the corner of Faye Street and Hinkson Avenue.

Elsewhere in the building, arms flailed through blue-tinted fog as industrial electronica reverberated off tiled walls in a room that was reminiscent of a meat locker. Black trash bags taped over the windows made the event barely noticeable from the outside.

As chic and Hollywood-like as it might seem, even this party wouldn't be in line with the atmosphere at Sundance because there wasn't a popularity game being played.

"What True/False does is it brings people together in the sense that everyone is at the same party," Lynch said. "It levels the playing field. They have no cooler place to go."

The festival makes up for its lack of Hollywood style by opening the door for more interaction.

"There's not an atmosphere of seeing films if you're (at Sundance)," said Maringouin, who saw "Afghan Star" and "Loot" during his free time on Saturday. "At True/False there are the same films as at Sundance, but they're all together, all at the same time, and it's just an amazing event."

Lynch and Maringouin were at True/False two years ago with their film "Running Stumbled," and they said they plan to return in the future. It's one of their two favorites, the other being the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Luciano Blotta, the Argentinian director of "Rise Up" and a first-time attendee of True/False, said that the festival is refreshing because its artistic atmosphere reminds him of Amsterdam, where he just showed his film at International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the biggest documentary festival in the world.

"You're breathing art," he said. "There's no sense of pressure or competitiveness."

That's a vibe that's very different from Amsterdam because IDFA is such a prestigious event, Blotta said.

"From now on, I want to make films only for this festival," he said, joking.

Despite being located in a small city in the Midwest, True/False offers its audience a culturally rich experience.

"There is so much sensory input in a weekend," said Susan Fadem, a True/False veteran who brought nine of her friends with her from St. Louis just as she's done for the last three years. "You travel world-wide. We've been to Sarajevo today and to Burma and to a crazy experiment in New York."

Fadem said that her imagination of Hollywood tinsel was quickly erased the first time she came.

"At first we kept teasing each other about seeing Robert Redford, but we realized that this is not a festival where you go to shop for distributors," she said.

What she found instead was a closeness between the audience and the filmmakers.

"There is an intimacy in commenting to audience members on a question that they asked three films ago," Fadem said. "You see the same people."

For Fadem and her friends, who saw 11 films over the weekend, the purpose of the visit is not to carouse; they come for the intellectual stimulation.

"It's an overload in a positive way because it gives us things we will think about and talk about for a whole year," Fadem said.

As with other prestigious festivals, however, True/False's influence is not limited to the people who attend. On Sunday, Chris Kelly, state representative for the 24th district, saw "Food, Inc.," a film about the unsavory dealings of the United States' food industry.

"One of the reasons I come to True/False is to get smarter, and I did so today," Kelly said. "There are some interesting legislative inquiries I want to make. True/False is a manifestation of the slogan, 'Think globally; act locally.'"

Kelly said that multiple other state representatives also attended the festival and, if his experience was any indicator, left with a lot to think about.


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