The True/False Film Festival, now in its 11th year, opens today in Columbia, Missouri and runs through the weekend. Declaring himself an “unabashed partisan” for the festival with a keen eye on “the bigger-picture growth of awareness of the space occupied by documentaries impatient with the limitations of traditional verite,” Filmmaker‘s Vadim Rizov places it in “the American landscape… roughly between MoMA’s valuable but underattended Doc Fortnight and Lincoln Center’s shiny, rigor-oriented new Art of the Real series.” Among the titles he’s looking forward to catching are Adirley Queirós’s White Out, Black In, “the French training-for-job-interviews documentary Rules of the Game and adopted-Roma-kids portrait Spartacus & Cassandra, both from Cannes sidebars” and “the Egyptian Revolution report I Am The People… These can be plunged into with reasonable confidence: curatorial winnowing of international cinema is a thing the festival’s reliable at.”
The Columbia Daily Tribune‘s Amy Wilder talks with Brett Morgen about Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck and with Michael Marcum, “whose tree sculptures were among the first art installations at True/False.” Aarik Danielsen talks with Bill and Turner Ross about Western (reviews) and argues that if “any one person could embody the spirit of True/False, it would probably be [Robert] Greene.”
The very first annual True Vision Award went to the late Bruce Sinofsky. This year, the recipient is Adam Curtis, whose Bitter Lake screens tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. For more on Bitter Lake, see Jason Burke (Sight & Sound), Michael Pattison (Grolsch Film Works), Sierra Pettengill (Talkhouse Film), Jonathan Sturgeon (Flavorwire) and Neil Young (Hollywood Reporter); and Rick Poynor talks with Curtis for Creative Review. Update: Brandon Harris interviews Curtis for Filmmaker.
Updates, 3/8: At the House Next Door, Clayton Dillard reviews Bitter Lake, “a profound testament to harnessing newly formulated ambitions beyond merely proffering archival footage employed in new contexts”; Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe’s T(Error), winner of the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Break Out First Feature; and Tonje Hessen Schei’s Drone, which “examines the titular robotic bombers as the ‘ultimate voyeurs’ in American assaults on Pakistan and attempts to construct a damning case against United States foreign policy regarding civilian casualties.”
In a dispatch to Ioncinema, Jordan M. Smith writes about a selection of Polish shorts and Hanna Polak’s Something Better to Come, which “inevitably recalls Edet Belzberg‘s heartbreaking portrait of homeless Romanian children in Children Underground, but delves into subtly differing territory by capturing the lives of homeless families living in the vast dumps that lie just outside of Moscow.”
For the Guardian, Kathryn Bromwich talks with Brett Morgen about Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck: “I don’t think I have got through a Q&A yet without crying. There’s something really difficult about finishing this project: I have to let it go now, and of all my subjects—I can’t relate to them the way I can to Kurt. There was a moment two weeks ago when I realised that he wasn’t going to be in my life on a daily basis, and I lost it completely.”
Updates, 3/9: More from Clayton Dillard, today on Montage of Heck, “a worthy, unique addition to progressing the concert documentary’s formal traits,” Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s Best of Enemies, “a quick-pulsed case-file doc that seeks to recreate the fervor surrounding 10 debates broadcast on ABC in 1968 between conservative pundit William F. Buckley and liberal rabble-rouser Gore Vidal,” and Michael Madsen’s The Visit, “a pre-enactment of a hypothetical alien invasion, with various scientists, military personnel, and intellectuals performing their potential roles were extraterrestrial beings to make contact.”
Updates, 3/13: Jim Brunzell III wraps it up at Hammer to Nail.
Ashley Clark at Indiewire: “How True/False Challenges the Way We See Documentary Films.”
Listening (39’02”). Sam Adams and Eric Kohn (Criticwire and Indiewire) discuss this year’s best docs.
Update, 3/17: “For once my favorite movie of True/False 2015 was an honest-to-goodness crowdpleaser, a counterintuitively funny film on a grim topic,” writes Filmmaker‘s Vadim Rizov, who also talks about Claudine Bories and Patrice Chagnard’s Rules of the Game in Kevin B. Lee‘s new video, “Seven Favorites from True/False 2015.” See, too, Kevin on The Look of Silence and The Chinese Mayor, “one of the most accomplished documentaries to come from China in recent memory,” Ela Bittencourt on the Neither/Nor program of Polish hybrid films she curated and Tim Grierson on Western and Cartel Land.
Update, 3/21: Writing for Sight & Sound, Charlie Lyne argues that True/False has had a hand in the recent “shift towards a more aesthetically inclined brand of nonfiction.”
Update, 3/29: “This year, the theme was ‘The Long Now,’ an evocative phrase open to interpretation,” writes Tim Grierson for Paste:
Did it suggest the power of the present? Was it alluding to documentary’s skill at preserving moments in time for eternity? For me, this year’s True/False circled around another theme, one that began to assert itself one screening at a time. Other festivalgoers no doubt constructed their own internal narratives based on the films they saw, but walking through Columbia from theater to theater, I was struck by the fact that so much of my True/False was informed by my first movie on the first day.
Although hardly the most scintillating or groundbreaking film at the festival, director Jerry Rothwell’s How to Change the World began an unexpected conversation with many of the movies I saw at this year’s True/False, touching on issues that linked the documentaries, their subjects and even the festival itself.
Updates, 4/25: Looking back on this year’s edition for Reverse Shot, Eric Hynes recalls the day word arrived in Columbia that Albert Maysles had died: “At the March March, the annual ramshackle parade that was held that afternoon, director AJ Schnack (Caucus) arrived with a ream of photocopied images from Maysles’s films, which many participants pinned to their backs and chests and flaunted down 9th Street. It was an impromptu tribute that felt truly celebratory of a singular life. Though we were a thousand miles from Maysles’s New York, it’s telling that a gathering of Maysles’s spiritual offspring felt at home in that little college town.”
Ben Sachs, writing for the Notebook, has been “chewing on some ideas that Adam Curtis… shared in a lecture-cum-multimedia presentation that he called ‘Unstoryfiable.’ Over the course of an hour, Curtis identified what he considered the major philosophical problems of our time, the unifying theme being a general failure of imagination in western culture. We’ve become a civilization obsessed with data, he argued; in our determination to predict the immediate future based on patterns of past behavior, we’re losing the ability to create ‘big picture’ narratives about how our society reached its present state and how we might want it to evolve.” Curtis’s Bitter Lake “is one of the most eye-opening films I’ve seen about America’s failed intervention in Afghanistan, since it illuminates surrounding historical events that directly caused it: the aftermath of the Cold War; the rise of neoliberal economics and the triumph of the banks over westerns governments; the decline of manufacturing industries in the United States and England. The main ‘character’ of Bitter Lake turns out to be the global capitalism practiced by western multinationals, which Curtis depicts as an idea no less potent or destructive as Soviet communism.”
“True/False’s catholic definition of ‘documentary’ encompasses films which many programming committees wouldn’t generally categorize as such,” writes Nick Pinkerton for Artforum. “This year, one film on the program which wouldn’t pass the strictest nonfiction scratch test was Benny and Joshua Safdie’s Heaven Knows What, a staged and scripted film about junkies living around Manhattan’s Riverside Park, based on the memoirs of its ex-addict star, Arielle Holmes. Field Niggas, positioned ever so slightly nearer to meeting the traditional criterion for documentary, issues its dispatch from the margins from uptown—posted on the corner of Lexington and 125th Street, in the heart of Harlem, filmmaker Khalik Allah collects testimony from winos, the philosophical homeless, and self-styled stickup men in the months after Eric Garner died at the hands of NYPD officers in Staten Island. Shooting entirely at night, Allah captures his subjects in ultrasaturated slow-motion portraits, accompanied by the out-of-sync audio of their testimonials, his own booming interlocution making him very much a character in the proceedings.”
T/F has become “America’s most vital documentary festival,” argues Jordan Cronk, writing for Cinema Scope. “In addition to anchoring their lineup with a handful of the previous year’s most acclaimed nonfiction and/or unclassifiable works—which this year accounts for the inclusions of Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan, Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, and Josh and Benny Safdie’s Heaven Knows What—they’ve assumed a parallel and even more crucial role in programming titles from larger festivals which got lost amidst higher profile premieres. The touching sibling odyssey Spartacus & Cassandra, for example, or the alternately humorous and humbling Rules of the Game… Another is Of Men and War by French director Laurent Bécue-Renard, which premiered last year as a Special Screening at Cannes but which garnered little in the way of critical discussion. Shot over a period of five years at a Napa Valley veteran’s home, Bécue-Renard’s film observes a group of Iraq War survivors suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as they attend therapy sessions and attempt to mentally reintegrate themselves into their prior lives.”
And he’s got more at Filmmaker, focusing there on Ela Bittencourt’s Neither/Nor program.