Co-founder and artistic director of the 2021 True/False Film Fest David Wilson speaks at a news conference

Co-founder and artistic director of the 2021 True/False Film Fest David Wilson speaks at a news conference Wednesday at Stephens Lake Park. After being pushed back to May 5-9, the fest will be held outdoors.

Many events in Columbia have had to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic, and next year’s True/False Film Fest is no exception.

The 2021 True/False festival will be an outdoor event at Stephens Lake Park May 5-9, its leadership team announced Wednesday morning.

The event will feature four screens positioned around the 116-acre park and one drive-in screen. The film festival will accommodate audiences of 200 to 800 people.

Fittingly, the theme of the 2021 festival, which will be the 18th annual event, is “The Nature of Uncertainty.”

“As we were looking forward to 2021, I said we were a little bit frozen first because things were changing so rapidly,” David Wilson, co-founder and artistic director of the 2021 fest, said at the Wednesday news conference.

“And then at some point we figured out that all we could do was sort of plan for the current moment.”

The creators of True/False have been working with the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services since March to ensure that the 2021 festival is safe.

That means social distancing, masks and plenty of hand sanitizer, Stacie Pottinger, director of development and communication for the fest, said.

The festival has already been pushed back two months from it’s usual date in early March and will have a capacity of about 40% to 50% in comparison to past years. That will make tickets, which go on sale Saturday, all the more valuable.

“We’ve had eight months of pivoting and pirouetting and becoming dizzy with spinning and practicing doing outdoor events safely,” Pottinger said. “And we believe that we’re ready to be able to do this in a safe way.”

True/False will sell a limited number of passes for a “Teleport Fest,” offering a virtual immersive experience. Participants will receive packages at their home each day of the festival with interactive elements incorporating the five senses as they watch films in their homes.

“We’re not calling it a virtual pass, it’s teleported, because we really believe the best part about True/False is the community experience and the experience of being with other people sharing an experience together,” Pottinger said. “So we feel like just putting a fest online is not the same as having a festival.”

There will also be a pass level for attendees who want a private screening at the Ragtag Cinema.

Movies will be shown at night; during the day the festival will feature musical performances, art displays and other activities in the park.

In past years, True/False has brought a lot of business to downtown Columbia. The 2021 version will include a business area in the park with vendors and pop-up shops set up by downtown businesses, Pottinger said. The fest will also hold activities downtown May 7, culminating in a May-March from downtown to the park.

“We will never forget or permanently leave our downtown home and the downtown businesses that have supported us for — this is our 18th year,” Pottinger said. “We want to make sure that they’re taken care of and feel like they’ve been remembered.”

True/False 2020 took place just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, making it the last big event that many Columbia residents attended. Pottinger said the switch to a socially distanced, outdoor event in 2021 is intended to be a one-time event.

“It was a huge challenge to imagine a fest in the time of a pandemic,” Wilson said at the news conference. “And we aimed to do nothing less than to put on another great festival, and we’re going to need all of Columbia to pitch in and help us do that. So we hope you’ll join us.”

Festival organizers will begin accepting applications for volunteers in January.

  • Public Life reporter, fall 2020. Studying data journalism. Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

  • I've been a reporter and editor at Missouri community newspapers for 35 years and joined the Columbia Missourian in 2003. My emphasis at the Missourian is on local government and elections. You can reach me at or at 573-884-5366.

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