Nothing But the Truth

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

Manufactured Landscapes (Jennifer Baichwal). Al Gore may have made bigger waves with his documentary exploring man's impact on the environment. But Gore and Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky are in many ways kindred spirits. Burtynsky's inconvenient truth: For better or worse, man has forever changed the way we view the Earth. In Manufactured Landscapes, director Jennifer Baichwal follows Burtynsky to southeast Asia, where globalization is altering the scenery faster than any time in history. We see the endless horizon of Shanghai factories, where the world's raw materials arrive only to return as the countless consumables we rarely give any thought to. We travel to the beaches of Bangladesh to watch as outdated cargo ships are torn asunder for their component parts. We arrive at China's Three Gorges Dam, where an army of laborers appear like ants against the backdrop of one of the world's great construction sites. From these stark images, Burtynsky and Baichwal leave us to form our own conclusions about the environment. Their message may not be as cataclysmic as Al Gore's, but it's hard to leave this film without taking a critical look at man's impact on our ever-changing landscape. Screens at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 3, at the Ragtag Theater. Cinematographer Peter Mettler attends. — Chad Garrison

Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa (Jeremy Stulberg and Randy Stulberg). Located in a forgotten, barren patch of the New Mexico desert, the Mesa is home to about 400 veterans, hippies and self-proclaimed outcasts who live in trailers and cobbled-together shelters. As the title says, Mesa dwellers live completely off the grid, with no electricity or running water; the ad-hoc community seems to subsist on a barter system of marijuana and fuel. The film chronicles the ups and downs of this kind of self-governing: The Mesa enjoys relative autonomy and a more visceral kind of freedom, but the tribe struggles to protect their way of life, particularly from a nearby group of anarchist vegans (who are considerably more threatening than your average vegans). The film touches on themes of patriotism and isolation from civilization, and much of the hour-long doc is spent looking at the circle of life and death as it spins itself out in this community. Screens at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 3, at the Forrest Theater. Co-directors Jeremy and Randy Stulberg attend. — Christian Schaeffer

Row Hard No Excuses (Luke Wolbach) It's been called the hardest race in the world: one plywood canoe and two rowers traveling 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. Rowers spend over $170,000 to enter the race, which carries the grand prize of a trophy. Just a trophy. The film is a mix of all the classic narratives: man versus himself, man versus God, and man versus another man (in this case, his teammate). Friendships are destroyed, marriages are tested, and innumerable blisters are popped throughout the voyage, which is as psychologically challenging as it is physically brutal. The focus of the film is on John Zeigler and Tom Mailhot, two of the older participants, who appear to enter the race to gain the elusive respect of their fathers. Several boats record video diary-like entries of the race, with plenty of Blair Witch-like close-ups and nausea-inducing POVs of life on the sea. It will either make you want to put on a life vest and grab a paddle — or stay in the land-locked Midwest. Screens at 10 p.m. Saturday, March 3, at the Ragtag Theater. Director Wolbach attends. — Christian Schaeffer

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

Super Amigos (Arturo Perez Torres). The Mexico City portrayed in Super Amigos has open-air dumps and thousands of homeless children. Homophobia is so severe that a gay couple walking home from a bar is liable to be beaten to death. But into this mess stride five Mexican wrestlers wearing masks, leggings and capes, the outfit of the sport known as Lucha Libre, or Free Wrestling. These men care less about what happens in the ring and more about what happens outside it: they are determined to change the world. Ecologista Universal, with his sparkly green cape, walks the country protesting deforestation and nuclear power plants. Super Gay, who has a rainbow on his mask, challenges homophobia. Fray Tormenta, the inspiration for the Jack Black comedy Nacho Libre, is a priest who uses his Lucha Libre winnings to run an orphanage. Super Amigos portrays these men as the real-life equivalent of comic-book superheroes. They are never shown without their masks, for example, and animated sequences tie together certain sections. But these fighters, with their gray ponytails and bulging bellies, are undoubtedly real. Their feats may be on a smaller scale than, say, Superman's, but they come across as no less important. Screens at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, March 3, at the Forrest Theater. Director Torres attends. — Molly Langmuir

The Third Monday in October (Vanessa Roth). The shadow of the 2004 presidential election looms over the four real-life middle-school elections documented in this touching (and at times heartbreaking) film. By focusing on a diverse cross-section of schools in different locations — from a poorer urban school in San Francisco to an Episcopal school in Austin, Texas — and not sugar-coating campaign mishaps (candidate squabbles, poster vandalism), Roth successfully shows the universal nature of adolescence. And like the spelling-bee doc Spellbound , what makes October so memorable is its charming candidates and their strong, sincere personalities. There's the precocious, articulate, political-fanatic Sam Brothers; a staunch, outspoken Republican named William Zolezzi; earnest Mick Del Rosario, who wants to improve his school; doe-eyed Katie Kane, who wishes to earn votes based on her qualifications, not just her looks; Kayla Bacon, who refuses to back down from her faith when called out for using a Bible verse on her poster; and Sam Arabian, whose campaign is modeled after and inspired by Superman. Screens at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, March 4, at the Blue Note. Director Roth attends. — Annie Zaleski

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