Third Time's a Charm

Columbia's True/False Film Festival tops itself. Again.

People are talking about the True/False Film Festival. Wait, not just talking — effusing. Lauding the festival's accomplishments. And letting others in on the secret: Hey, did you know that one of the hottest film festivals in North America is in....Missouri? The all-documentary fest started out strong in 2004 and gained momentum in 2005 (see Mike Seely's "Bowling for Columbia" and "Too Good to Be True" in the February 11, 2004, and February 24, 2005, issues of the Riverfront Times). Now, in its third iteration, the festival offers another world-class slate of films — and people in the industry are not just taking notice, they're becoming the fest's champions.

"We've been very lucky to have this niche of documentaries," says Paul Sturtz, who, along with David Wilson, founded the festival. "We've been able to get some of the best filmmakers to come to [Columbia]. People like Kevin MacDonald [Touching the Void, One Day in September], Bruce Sinofsky [Metallica: Some Kind of Monster] — they've become our ambassadors."

Praise from well-respected filmmakers is quite a boon for a still-young festival. But True/False's success is rooted squarely in Sturtz and Wilson's persistence of vision. The process: Find the highest-quality documentaries in the world. Create a festival environment where screenings are convenient for everyone. Bring in the filmmakers. The formula sounds simple, but the logistics can get tricky. This year, the festival is welcoming filmmakers and documentary subjects from Denmark, the United Kingdom, Cameroon and China, among other places. Sturtz strongly values this interaction, this clear connection between people and their films.

Paul Sturtz calls Why We Fight "the most important film we're playing."
Paul Sturtz calls Why We Fight "the most important film we're playing."


Thursday through Sunday, February 23 through 26, in Columbia. Visit or call 573-442-8783 for tickets, venue details and more information.

"If the filmmaker can't come, we cross them off the list," he explains. "It's part of the fest's whole ethos — to have it be a communal experience for filmmakers to share their films with other filmmakers and with the public."

And for four days in February, Sturtz and Wilson's vision comes alive in Columbia. Sure, it isn't Los Angeles, or New York, or even Toronto — but it just might be better.

"We play up the romantic notion of coming to the Midwest," Sturtz says. "This is a place people know nothing about. They think there's nothing going on, but then they see the thriving downtown. They come away saying, 'This is one of the best festival environments we've been in.'

"When you go to Sundance, you spend a quarter of your time on a shuttle bus," the co-founder continues. "In Toronto, there's a good half-mile between venues. Here, there are four venues [close together] — it definitely creates a kind of dynamism."

Less time in transit means more time at screenings, and this year's schedule includes some not-to-be-missed films. Sturtz is particularly fond of Chances of the World Changing, which he describes as a "very engrossing profile of an obsessive character.... [Chances] has a larger resonance; this story about a guy who's saving turtles opens us up to the whole unwieldy subject of extinction, brings it to a very life-size level where everyone can relate."

Sturtz also enthuses about the buzz-generating Why We Fight, which he describes as a remarkably even-handed documentary about American militarism — "the most important film we're playing." And the festival co-founder is particularly thrilled to be showing Refugee All-Stars, which centers on a band formed in the refugee camps of Sierra Leone. The musicians are still working to get visas, but if all goes according to plan, the All-Stars' first American show will be in Columbia.

"We want to show that just because you live in a small town in the Midwest doesn't mean your worldview has to be parochial and small-minded," Sturtz says. "Our goal is to bring a wide group of filmmakers to mid-Missouri and open the window on the big, wide world."

Nearly 60 documentaries will screen at this year's True/False Festival. Following are some of the films we found the most compelling.

American Blackout (Ian Inaba). John Lewis, a Democratic congressman from Georgia, believes that if Florida's ballots had been properly counted during the 2000 presidential election — and if several members of the African-American populace hadn't been denied their legal voting rights — George W. Bush would not have been elected president, the nation would not be at war in Iraq, and the makeup of the Supreme Court would be vastly different today. Instead, that contest, along with the 2004 election, brought to light a far-reaching government conspiracy to enact modern-day Jim Crow laws via electronic glitches and intentionally labyrinthine red tape. In what is essentially a full-length (though highly compelling) campaign commercial, long-time Democratic Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney plays David to the Bush administration's Goliath. Long before Michael Moore and George Clooney, McKinney questioned what pre-9/11 warnings the government may have concealed and what role media conglomerates and special-interest groups play in keeping white Republicans in office. It's not that black voters are disenfranchised, says McKinney — it's that they are being deliberately targeted. Screens at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, February 26, at the Missouri Theatre. Director Inaba attends. — Julie Seabaugh

Been Rich All My Life (Heather MacDonald). Remember that Golden Girls episode in which Rose, Blanche and Dorothy rehearse for a tap-dance recital? Add twenty years, another hoofer and a slew of show-biz memories, and you have the Silver Belles, four former members of the Apollo Theater's original chorus line. It can take up to two hours for Fay Ray, Marion Coles, Cleo Hayes and Elaine Ellis to make it all the way up to 125th Street's Cotton Club for their riotous afternoon practices, but there's no place they'd rather be — unless, of course, they're donning silver pantsuits, two-inch heels and sequined bowlers before entertaining their still-ardent public. Though as meandering as the jazz soundtrack it employs, Rich remains generally uplifting while recounting how the octogenarian spitfires overcame the racial and sexual mores of the past. Screens at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, February 25, at the Forrest Theater. Director MacDonald attends. (JS)

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