Anticipating True/FalseMarch 5, 2015
By Piers Marchant
for the Arkansas Demcorat-Gazette and blood, dirt & angels
If you can imagine a huge, international film festival such as TIFF, Cannes or Berlin as a well established, Michelin-starred fine dining operation, serving thousands of guests from a thick and varied
menu; menu, and Sundance as a considerably smaller, slightly more niche downtown hotspot, look upon Columbia, Mo.’s True/False film festival as the hip, quirky bistro that offers only one kind of dish (grilled cheese! hummus!) in a part of town you’ve never spent much time in, but does it exceptionally well. Begun humbly in 2003, the documentary film festival has grown exponentially in its dozen years of existence and has gained a considerable following among the film-loving community.
Over the years, it’s celebrated the works of documentary denizens such as Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void), Kirby Dick (This Film
is Is Not Yet Rated), James Marsh (Man on Wire), Laura Poitras (The Oath) and Amir Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That), household names amongst among thesmall but wildly supportive documentary film cognoscenti.
If the names and films don’t ring any bells, you shouldn’t feel too
badly.Scanning over Among the top 10 highest grossing docs of all time in this country, two are rabid political rhetorics (Fahrenheit 9/11 and 2016 Obama’s America), two are animal-friendly compilations (March of the Penguins and Chimpanzee), and three are essentially slick infomercials for incredibly trendy pop-music icons (Katy Perry: Part of Me, One Direction: This is Is Us, and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never).
The more thought-provoking and serious examples of the form don’t tend to be particularly high-grossing or splashy, but they reward the careful viewer with ideas and narratives that we might not have access to otherwise.Among the nearly 50 feature
docs documentaries True/False will be screening from Thursday to Sunday in Columbia this weekend, here are the ten 10 we’re most looking forward to seeing.
Best of Enemies: A big hit this past January at Sundance, Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s film covers the too brief periodthe bigwigs at ABC News somehow green-lighted a two-man response team for the 1968 Republican and Democratic national conventions. The
two men? Sneering ultra- ultraconservative pundit William F. Buckley, and preening, intellectual firebrand Gore Vidal. Their nightly sparring contests became the stuff of news legend, and affected the men forevermore.
Bitter Lake: Adam Curtis’ film takes a fresh look at Afghanistan, one of the more confounding countries in the world. Somehow able to hold out against both the Soviets (who left the country after a decade of a brutal civil war) and, more recently, the U.S. (which has finally begun withdrawing troops after a 13-year siege), the country lurches on, defiant to the last. The film culls various bits of archived footage, sewn together with a history of the place and its political upheavals. A stream-of-consciousness portrait of a country that remains an enigma.
Finders Keepers: Perhaps one of the stranger sounding projects at this year’s festival, Bryan Carberry and J. Clay Tweel’s film is about a man who buys a used grill and finds a severed human foot in the ashes — and another man, an amputee, who claims the foot is his and demands its return. That the men are both Southern raconteurs, with an intuitive understanding of gothic narratives and the characters that inhabit them, apparently only adds to the bizarre fun.
Going Clear: Another big hit at Sundance (and playing on HBO later this
month), month) is Alex Gibney’s expose of the strange doings of Scientology, one of the more reclusive and litigious of the worlds’ world’s religions. The film covers many angles of the movement, including its peculiar history beginning with L. Ron Hubbard’s theories of human evolution, their particular method of indoctrination of new members, and the dirt on their two most well known apostles, Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Shocking doesn’t begin to cover it.
Heaven Knows What: There has long been a romantic fascination with junkies, from the beat bustling of William S. Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch to Gus Van Sant’s powerful film Drugstore Cowboy. Benny and Joshua Safdie’s film, shot on the streets and
hovels in the hovels of New York, follows a trio of young heroin addicts as they conduct the grim business of slowly killing themselves. In keeping with the dual nature of the festival’s name, this is a fictional film based on the unpublished memoir of lead actress Arielle Holmes, resulting in either a doc-style narrative or a fiction-enhanced doc, whichever you prefer.
– — Montage of Heck: Yet another Sundance fave, Brett Morgan’s loving tribute to the late Nirvana frontman includes many of Cobain’s own journal entries, early recordings and drawings. Rather than bolster his rock god status — a development from all accounts that that, from all accounts, contributed to Cobain’s growing alienation — Morgan heads the other direction and offers a portrait of a frail human being, albeit a supremely talented one.
Meru: Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi’s mountain-climbing opus presents an in-depth exploration
as to of what drives human beings to constantly test themselves and challenge conventional safety standards in order to summit impossible peaks. Chin, who was the third member of this special three-man climbing team, also shoots the astounding footage, as it covers the planning and planning, preparation, and execution of a tortuous climb up the Shark Fin route of Meru Peak, considered by many to be the most difficult summit on earth.
To to Come: If Richard Linklater’s Boyhood served as a kind of document of aging, even against a fictional narrative backdrop, Hanna Polak’s film, which covers 14 years of the life of a girl named Yula, who lives in a landfill just outside Moscow, works similar magic without the pretense of manufactured story. Following Yula from age 10 to 24, Polak’s film sounds equal parts intense, harrowing , and oddly heartwarming.
(T)error: Our confounding war on terror involves the steady infiltration of FBI agents into secret cells, rooting out plots
, and keeping a steady eye on the network of terrorist agents bent on doing the country harm. After two decades of service, one such undercover agent wants very much to be out of the game to spend time with his family and young son. For what he claims is his last job, he brings along a pair of filmmakers so they can record his work for posterity. In the process, the two directors, Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe, get a front-line view of FBI counterterrorism efforts in the U.S.
The Look of Silence: Joshua Oppenheimer’s stunning The Act of Killing gave horrible voice to the perpetrators of inexplicable violence and cruelty during the Indonesian genocide of the mid-’60s. This follow-up doc now considers the other side: the families of the victims left behind in the wake of this brutal military crackdown. In perfect, albeit harrowing, symmetry, Oppenheimer follows one such victim, whose brother was savagely murdered, as he tracks down and meets with some of the culprits.Certain to be a devastating work.