"We have to be very patient and let the story tell itself without interfering or pushing it along," says Nathan Truesdell, the producer and cinematographer on both Strangers and Caucus. "With Caucus we had a built-in end date. Someone was going to win. With We Always Lie to Strangers, there was no third act to let us know when we were done. There was no first act when we arrived. The story continues where we left off."

Truesdell, who also graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia, earned a degree in computer science, which might account for his adeptness at taking care of the technical side of things, while he calls Schnack a genius at cinematography, keeping track of contacts, locations and planning.

"We also both edit, and, eerily, we're on the same page at least 95 percent of the time," Truesdell says. "It's extremely helpful to have someone with the same aesthetic to be able to bounce ideas off of in order to cut through the bullshit."

Rick Santorum on the stump in Iowa, from Caucus.
Rick Santorum on the stump in Iowa, from Caucus.

Location Info


Landmark Tivoli Theatre

6350 Delmar Blvd.
University City, MO 63130

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Delmar/ The Loop

Wildey Theatre

254 N. Main St.
Edwardsville, IL 62025

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Collinsville/ Edwardsville

Plaza Frontenac

1701 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
Frontenac, MO 63131

Category: Retail

Region: Frontenac


We Always Lie to Strangers
Directed by AJ Schnack and David Wilson.
Opens Thursday, November 14, at the Tivoli.
A prescreening reception at 6 p.m. features a Q&A with the directors, live music and complimentary drinks.
The film screens at 7:30 p.m.

Directed by AJ Schnack.
Opens Friday, November 15, at 6:45 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac.
Additional screening on Sunday, November 17, at 4:30 p.m. at the Wildey.

Schnack and Truesdell agree that documentary filmmakers are storytellers, not journalists. "We make film using real people and real situations, and then we take that material and craft a narrative from it," says Schnack, who counts Errol Morris, D.A. Pennebaker and the Maysles brothers among the documentarians who have most influenced his filmmaking. "For years, people wanted to put the rules of journalism onto documentary, but we're finally starting to move away from that and getting to a point where people realize that nonfiction film can be anything."

The differences between Caucus and Strangers were perhaps at their starkest behind the scenes, when it came to the relationships that developed between the filmmakers and their subject matter. With Strangers, Schnack and his team couldn't help but become intertwined in the lives of their subjects, sharing stories and pictures of their own families and making what they consider to be lifelong friends in the process. Shooting Caucus, the crew took a different tack: It was far easier to get close to the politicians if the filmmakers didn't have to divulge what they were doing, says Truesdell.

"At one point a press person for one of the candidates asked me who we were with, and I replied, 'We're making an independent documentary.' He said, 'Oh. So you're secret operatives for the Iowa Democratic Party.' There was so much going on that it was much easier to not have to explain. We never asked the candidates questions and never got in anyone's way. We were just there. Always."

We Always Lie to Strangers had its first showing this past March at South by Southwest, where it received the Special Jury Recognition for Directing. Branson mayor Raeanne Presley was there for its debut, beaming as Schnack, Wilson and Truesdell strolled down the streets of Austin, sporting the Presleys' trademark sequined patriotic jackets.

And though she admits that it's difficult to be introspective, she also believes Branson is fairly represented in the film. She calls Schnack a great talent.

"I'd like to think we're not vastly different from most small towns — quirky, trying hard to make it a better place, loving our friends and families, funny, and, yes, flawed," says Presley.

When Schnack receives the Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award this week, he'll join prestigious ranks. Past honorees have included Bob Gale, the cowriter and producer of Back to the Future fame; Jeremy Lasky, Pixar's director of cinematography; and actress Jenna Fischer.

Cinema St. Louis executive director Cliff Froehlich notes that Schnack is worthy of recognition for more than just his work behind the camera. For years Schnack authored All These Wonderful Things, a blog widely discussed and admired among the documentary-filmmaking community for its sharp insight and reporting. In 2007 Schnack also cofounded the venerable Cinema Eye Honors that recognizes artistic excellence in documentary filmmaking. Cinema Eye's seventh awards ceremony will take place in New York City in January.

"We've had our eye on AJ for some time because of his substantial body of work — not just his highly regarded films," says Froehlich. "We've played all of his previous films at SLIFF, and it seemed highly appropriate that he receive the award this year, given that he has two films playing the fest, including one on a Missouri subject."

Schnack's next doc is percolating. Though he isn't quite ready to unveil his idea, he says that if he gets to do it, it will be very, very fun.

"Standing there with the camera, filming a real event or moment as opposed to a staged one, and having something unexpected happen — or becoming invisible to the participants — it's exhilarating."

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