Nothing But the Truth

Columbia's True/False Festival is the coolest four-year-old in Missouri.

 The fourth annual True/False Film Festival takes place Thursday through Sunday, March 1 through 4, in Columbia. Following are previews of some of this year's most fascinating films. A complete schedule of films and events, plus venue and ticket information, can be found at And be sure to check this section next week for a wrap-up of the festival.

Air Guitar Nation (Alexandra Lipsitz). Any film that kicks off with Motörhead's "Ace of Spades" has a leg up on the rest, and when you toss in a bunch of dudes lost in imaginary wailing, how can you go wrong? Quite easily, if you're not careful. But first-time director Alexandra Lipsitz strikes the perfect chord (pun totally intended), and what could have been a two-hour Yngwie solo instead becomes as unpredictable as a Coltrane run on the saxophone. Air Guitar Nation documents the rise of competitive air-guitar playing in America. In the inaugural New York City challenge, we meet the two heroes of the film: C-Diddy, a Korean-American with a love of wailing mid-'80s guitar solos; and Bjorn Turoque, a charismatic Keith Richards with an eye on the prize, who at one point declares, "Tight, long strums are what it's all about." Both chase glory from New York to LA and ultimately to northern Finland, where each year the international air guitar championships draw 5,000 hungry fans and dozens of soloists from around the world. Air Guitar Nation is textured, well-crafted — and hilarious. The film's chief asset is its subtlety. Lesser minds would have gone for cheap, easy laughs. But Lipsitz finds something Zen-like in the insanity, and reveals the players to be witty, intelligent souls who celebrate the art of air guitar as "something you can't commercialize because it's invisible." Screens at 10 p.m. Friday, March 2, at the Forrest Theater. Director Lipsitz attends. — Randall Roberts

American Shopper (Tamas Bojtor and Sybil Dessau). This is a "documentary" about an idealistic insurance agent who is spending his savings to stage the first national aisling championship in Columbia, Missouri. What's aisling? It's a "sport" in which contestants have three minutes to gather a pre-determined list of grocery-store items while earning style points for self-expression. Sound too silly to be true? It is. The insurance agent is an actor, the National Aisling League a creation of the filmmakers. However, the Columbia residents who agree to take part in the championship — and the prize money they compete for — purport to be real. Whether the joke in this "hybrid" mockumentary is on them or on viewers who don't get the joke is debatable. (If the staged interactions between the insurance agent and various Schnucks officials don't clue you in, wait for the ridiculous scene involving a helicopter and missing shopping carts.) But the compelling stories of some of the aislers — especially Mike, a once-promising actor now rebuilding his life after being homeless — save the film from outright self-indulgence. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 4, at the Missouri Theater. Co-directors Bojtor and Dessau, producer Katie Mustard and star Jonathan Sawyer attend. — Ian Froeb

An(other) inconvenient truth: Manufactured Landscapes 
screens Saturday evening.
An(other) inconvenient truth: Manufactured Landscapes screens Saturday evening.

The Devil Came on Horseback (Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern). After the civil war in Sudan ended in 2004, ex-Marine captain Brian Steidle became a patrol leader to help monitor the ceasefire. But in the face of increasing unrest in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, he ended up volunteering there instead. What he saw and experienced in Darfur was horrifying: bodies burned alive, innocent children murdered, villages destroyed and wanton genocide and rape. Through letters Steidle sends to his sister, Gretchen, and video interviews and snapshots he shot there — most of which are graphic, stomach-turning and unspeakably sad — Horseback aims to be a voice for those who are forced into silence. Woven into this film is Steidle's own struggle to have his story told: Despite high-profile coverage from the New York Times, he has to constantly fight against press suppression, government indifference and skepticism. But no matter the challenges he faces, Steidle's determination to share his photographs with anyone who will look — and a burning need to tell the story of Darfur on behalf of those who suffer unbearable cruelty — is admirable and powerful. Screens at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 4, at the Missouri Theater. Directors Sundberg and Stern attend. — Annie Zaleski

Freeheld (Cynthia Wade). Police Lieutenant Laurel Heste is dying of lung cancer. But officials in Ocean County, New Jersey, will not allow her pension to go to her domestic partner — even though state law permits same-sex couples such liberties. So begins director Cynthia Wade 's heart-wrenching documentary chronicling the devastating effects of both disease and discrimination. In this case, it's hard to discern which is worse. As Heste literally wastes away before the camera, county bureaucrats greet her appeals with blank stares and deafening silence. Heste is soon joined in her fight by the most unlikely of gay-rights activists: the macho, heterosexual cops with whom she once served. Even the governor rallies to her cause. But with Heste's days drawing to an end, county officials refuse to grant her death wish. Screens at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, March 4, at the Forrest Theater. Director Wade attends. — Chad Garrison

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