“No film festival has meant more to me than True/False,” writes Robert Greene, opening a three-part series at Filmmaker. “My last two films (Kati with an I and Fake It So Real) began their lives in Columbia, MO—in front of the festival’s famously engaged crowds, amidst its street parades and pre-movie buskers, alongside some of the best programming in the world. True/False was therefore the natural place to launch my new film, Actress, and I was incredibly excited it got accepted. Many of the formal ideas at play in the movie (such as the role of performance in nonfiction and the tensions between structured and serendipitous realities) are discussed and celebrated every year in Columbia. These ideas are so deeply a part of the festival that they’re embedded in its name.”
For the New York Times the other day, Lauren Sandler reported on the unique relationship between True/False co-director David Wilson, “a secular Jew who says he is very skeptical about American Christian culture,” and Dave Cover, “a founding pastor of the Crossing, a 4,000-member Evangelical Presbyterian church in Columbia…. For the last several years, the Crossing has sponsored the festival’s True Life Fund, which awards financial support, sometimes upward of $30,000, to subjects of documentaries—not the filmmakers, who customarily receive the awards. Then again, it’s an unusual marriage.”
True/False opens today and runs through Sunday. The Columbia Daily Tribune has been previewing this year’s edition while KBIA‘s been conducting interviews with filmmakers who have work in the program. As notable reviews come in, we’ll be making note of them here. Meantime, here’s the teaser for Robert Greene’s Actress:
Update, 2/28: “‘Brandy Burre is Actress,’ reads the opening credit of Robert Greene’s aptly titled documentary Actress, setting the stage for a movie wholly consumed by that single, hypnotizing presence,” writes Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “A once-promising thespian who abandoned a role on HBO’s The Wire to start a family in upstate New York, Burre invites a tantalizing mixture of fascination and pity. Less nonfiction portrait than a poetic framing of domestic frustrations, Actress is about a lot more than flailing show business aspirations.”
Updates, 3/1: For Tim Grierson, writing for Screen, “Greene’s intelligent, contemplative approach deemphasises glamour to focus on Burre’s warring impulses as she tries to carve out time for family, her craft and her relationship.” At the House Next Door, Clayton Dillard: “In some cases, the line separating true and false is not only thin, but nonexistent. If Brandy is embellishing for the sake of the film, then she’s what she says she is: an actress. And in Actress, it’s ultimately unclear how one would begin to separate the two. In this case, a lack of clarity is illuminating.”
Dillard also reviews Maxim Pozdorovkin and Tony Gerber’s The Notorious Mr. Bout, which “teems with a masculine bravado evinced by both the documentary’s numerous male talking heads and its own chaotic, almost exhausting pace, which cuts between home-video recordings, news footage, CCTV cams, animated maps and explanations, and five continents to more comprehensively explain the tribulations (and eventual trial) of Viktor Bout, the convicted Russian arms dealer more colloquially known as ‘The Merchant of Death,’ whose mythological status served as the basis for 2005’s Lord of War.” When he saw it at Sundance, the Dissolve‘s Noel Murray knew right off that it was “not going to be easy to shake off.” More from Eric Ortiz Garcia (Twitch), Dennis Harvey (Variety) and Jordan M. Smith (Ioncinema). A clip:
Vadim Rizov has posted a first True/False diary entry at Filmmaker. Amanda Rose Wilder’s Approaching the Elephant has seen its world premiere at the festival: “The subject is ‘free schools’: further left on the continuum than Montessori, and (at least as practiced by the subject school’s founder Alex Khost) an exercise in allowing children to set the educational agenda so they can discover their own identities and regard/empathize others as distinct individuals in their own valuable right.” Here, the “adolescents are smarter than 80% of the regulars at my local, but intelligence won’t save them; this is a democracy in inaction.” Victor Kossakovsky’s Demonstration, “assembled from footage shot almost entirely on one day by 32 students… posits that taking to the streets is a necessary, highly ritualized spectacle whose predictability doesn’t delegitimize its participants’ grievances.” And the “film that’s brought me the most pleasure at the festival so far is Gianfranco Rosi’s Sacro GRA,” winner of the Golden Lion at Venice last fall. “Though the film meanders a bit too long—there’s no sense of urgent necessity, and the sense of a potentially infinite film with no coherence induced minor impatience eventually—its hypnotic reverie effectively worked its charms on me.”
Just up at the House Next Door is another dispatch from Clayton Dillard. Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos’s Rich Hill, winner of the US documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, “is poverty porn, and this isn’t simply because the film examines poverty, but because it does so with pity as its operative mode, engendering little more than a space for viewers to leave the film acknowledging its sadness…. Amir Bar-Lev brings considerably more lucidity to Happy Valley, a film which seeks less to understand the psychology of convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky than Penn State’s fervid devotion to sports culture.” Reviews from Sundance: Sam Adams (Philadelphia City Paper), Justin Chang (Variety), John DeFore (Hollywood Reporter), Eric Kohn (Indiewire), Jeff Labrecque (EW) and Nathan Rabin (Dissolve).
But “Jaap Van Hoewijk’s remarkable Killing Time bests both Rich Hill and Happy Valley in terms of engaging horrors that fiercely bubble just beneath the consciousness of family members linked to violent trauma. Less a polemic against the death penalty than a jarringly composed piece of ‘present tense’ filmmaking, Van Hoewijk forgoes any access to death row inmate Elroy Chester; instead, Chester’s family and a single victim remain the focus, as they wait, in the hours leading up to his execution, to receive closure.”
“One of the kickoff screenings was of Frank Pavich’s Jodorowsky’s Dune (Grade: B+), a wildly entertaining account of El Topo director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s novel,” writes Ben Kenigsberg in a first dispatch to the AV Club. He also writes about Sacro GRA (B-): “Not so much a Pedro Costa-style community portrait as a lyrical meditation on class in Italy, the movie is absorbing but slight—the sort of low-key, observational documentary that’s becoming a bit of a cliché…. A far better community portrait could found in Anna Sandilands and Ewan McNicol’s Uncertain, which screened here as a work-in-progress. (It seems unfair to issue a grade, particularly since the directors asked for feedback from the audience, but I’ll award it a rising B+.) … The American character also comes under interrogation in Jesse Moss’s Sundance sensation The Overnighters (Grade: A-), which examines the modern equivalent of a gold rush in North Dakota, where the hydrofracking boom has attracted job-seekers in droves.” (More reviews.) And Amir Bar-Lev’s Happy Valley earns a mere C+.
Update, 3/3: “Jessica Oreck‘s The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga is a staggeringly polymorphous documentary that often suggests a collaboration between Carlos Reygadas, Godfrey Reggio, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul,” writes Clayton Dillard at the House Next Door. Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s Manakamana, “the latest masterwork from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, forgoes any classical-narrative sense of significance, instead opting for a structuralist framework that allows, among other things, first and third world to come into direct conflict and, as an additive, filmmaking traditions to be countered as well.” And: “The images and footage from Concerning Violence are undoubtedly horrifying, but beyond making them known, [Göran Hugo Olsson’s] film struggles at times to transcend its academic presentation as an advanced visual essay explicating a theoretical text.”
Updates, 3/29: Way earlier this month, Kevin B. Lee posted a video in which he, Michael Sicinski, Vadim Rizov and Tim Grierson discuss some of their favorite films at the festival.
More reports from True/False 2014: Paul Dallas (Indiewire), another dispatch from Clayton Dillard (House Next Door), Robert Greene (Sight & Sound), Eric Hynes (Moving Image Source), Adam Nayman (Cinema Scope), Vadim Rizov (Filmmaker) and Ben Sachs (Notebook).
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