|Movie fans line up in the efficient Q system at True/False|
True/False: Saturday and Sunday
By Saturday and Sunday of the True/False fest I’d fallen into a comfortable pattern with the timing and layout of the event, cheerfully gliding from one theater to the next, gauging which restaurants, bars and coffee shops might be too crowded for a quick snack or drink, scheduling my viewing to be a rewarding mix of the obscure and the popular. Once again, the festival’s seamless organization made everything easy.
|Seattle musician Paul Rucker entertains the Columbia, MO audience before a screening.|
If my first full day of viewing films at True/False indicated anything, it’s that this festival’s primary concern is not with advocacy or call-to-action documentaries, those earnest, agenda-centric movies that invite viewers to text or call or join the conversation. Festival co-director David Wilson told me, in a nice way, that he’s seen enough of those “glorified power point presentations,” that “new wave” of issue-driven docs inspired by the success of An Inconvenient Truth. He and co-director Paul Sturtz are in this for the “visionary films,” looking for those filmmakers who “push their work a lot harder; visually, editorially, with music and sound…who take chances and explore the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction.” They’re not opposed to more conventional or commercial work (Jodorowsky’s Dune, Private Violence, Big Men). Not at all. The festival needs to make money to survive. But their shrewd programming strategy works by introducing viewers to challenging films while also satisfying their desire to be entertained. The four pictures I saw on Friday reflected this curatorial design.
True/False Film Fest: Thursday night
The opening night of the True/False Film Fest presented the usual dilemma of any festival kick-off: watch movies or party. Since I’m here on a press pass, I dutifully attended two films, was late for a sold-out third, consumed a few beers and glasses of wine, and introduced myself to the director of the first film I saw, Approaching the Elephant.
True/False Film Fest-Thursday
Some locals call it “CoMo” as in Columbia, MO, the county seat of Boone County, and once inhabited by mound-building Native Americans. It is the nation's 13th most highly educated municipality (thanks, Wikipedia), home to the University of Missouri and, during the last weekend in February, the site of the True/False Film Fest, one of the most respected non-fiction film festivals in the country.
Anyone who has ever enrolled in a beginner’s acting class will recognize what Robert Redford and his director, J.C. Chandor, are up to with All Is Lost. A basic performance exercise involves executing a routine action, such as folding laundry or making dinner or sweeping the floor, as if totally alone. The simplicity of the exercise teaches you a rigorous truth. A scene is only as believable as your conviction in it. It depends entirely on responding to your immediate environment spontaneously, without indicating what’s coming next, without flourishes, as if no one is watching. Acting is reacting, and an audience is convinced by a scene when they believe the actor is doing only that.
The five films nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar this year represent a wide range of subject matter and aesthetic vision, but they all have one thing in common: a tendency to underwhelm the imagination. The Act of Killing, The Square, Dirty Wars, 20 Feet From Stardom and Cutie and the Boxer, are solid, competent works touching–but only touching–on issues ranging from genocide to revolution to covert war to artistic self-expression. Each film is engaging but unremarkable. And one in particular, The Act of Killing, the odds-on favorite to win the award, is even questionable in terms of approach and presentation.
If the Oscar for Best Actor this year goes to Matthew McConaughey for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club, it will cap a career makeover the actor has doggedly pursued since he starred in 2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer. He must have recognized he was on the road to career irrelevancy, renting his audience-friendly asset as a charming, sexy rascal out to a series of vapid and generic rom-coms, so he did something clever. He kept the rascal charm, allowed the sex appeal to go to seed, searched out grittier material, and discovered the duality born into his unglamorous past. This son of a gas station owner and substitute teacher, who shoveled chicken shit in Australia as a summer job, has–in only the last four years–scratched out a remarkable string of sinewy, complex characterizations. His moving portrayal of the real life Ron Woodroof, a heterosexual cowboy dying of AIDS in 1980s Texas, is at the top of that list.