True/False in Time's "50 Cultural Experiences to Try in 2014"

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 | 7:35 p.m. CDT; updated 10:55 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Throughout its 10-year history, the True/False Film Fest has offered a variety of activities as can be seen in this collection of photos. At this year's festival, Christine Carpenter made a hat out of an old film, and patrons waited to enter the Missouri Theatre to see "Stories We Tell," the opening film. In 2012, Les Trois Coups performed. An in 2010, visitors watched Joshua Hulen, the True/False robot, dance in the street.

COLUMBIA — Attending the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Cruising to the South Pole in Antarctica. Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland. Attending the True/False Film Fest in Columbia.

These are among the 50 cultural experiences Time magazine says you must have in 2014

True/False, the only film festival on the list, is described as an "avant-garde" film festival by the magazine. The fest is "also known as the 'undance' festival," according to Time — an apparent reference to the bigger, more famous Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, which happens the month before Columbia's smaller, zanier festival.

"It's a really cool thing to be a part of," said David Wilson, one of the co-founders and co-directors of True/False along with Paul Sturtz.

Wilson said he hadn't seen the Time article before a reporter contacted him, but he was happy about it.

"We love the idea of True/False as an event that stretches beyond the screen and encompasses Columbia," Wilson said. "It has all these parties and events and costumes and music, and it feels so satisfying when somebody out there gets that."

Since its founding in 2003 by Wilson and Sturtz, the festival has grown in ways no one expected. According to the event's website, "True/False began as a foolhardy lark" and an "exercise in youthful exuberance." Had anyone known what the future of the fest might hold, "our dauntless souls would have no doubt been daunted." 

In its first year, the festival sold just over 4,400 tickets, Wilson said. Flash forward 10 years, and Wilson and Sturtz expect ticket sales will top out around 47,000 by the first day of the next festival: Feb. 27, 2014. That's over 10 times the number of tickets sold during the festival's infant years. 

"We don't mind growing, but we want to make sure it keeps that same spirit and that same energy," Wilson said. "There's ways we can manage the growth, but we certainly want to share it with as many people as possible."

While the criteria Time used to compile its list are not immediately apparent — True/False is also keeping company on the list with the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby in Oklahoma — True/False has some qualities that would look good on a resume. Wilson said the films that are featured each year are the anchor, but they're only part of a great mix.

Alongside a unique music scene that brings buskers from all over and one-of-a-kind art installations across downtown, Columbia creates a distinctive voice for that one, long, film-stuffed weekend. 

"I think it represents Columbia at its best," Wilson said. "Even if I wasn't responsible for organizing the festival, if I wanted to show off Columbia to somebody else, True/False weekend would be when I would want to show it to them."

Time's list was the first of this kind that has included True/False, though, it's been mentioned in stories about film festivals worth attending. Wilson said the grassroots-style film festival belongs in the company of exotic activities such as exploring the Tianzi Mountains of China or experiencing the Spring Equinox in Mexico — other experiences on the list. 

"If someone wanted to find things that were a little off the beaten path but had a spirit and soul of their own that didn't feel cookie-cutter, ... then yeah, I think it belongs," he said. 

And he's seen the Northern Lights.

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