True/False 2018

On Film / The Daily — Mar 1, 2018

This year’s edition of the True/False Film Fest opens today in Columbia, Missouri and runs through Sunday. “The festival focuses on nonfiction films, though True/False’s definition of the term is intentionally porous,” writes Aarik Danielsen during the course of his talk for the Columbia Daily Tribune with David Wilson, who co-founded the festival with Paul Sturtz in 2004. “Here, traditional talking-head documentaries meet more experimental fare, and even fiction films that help themselves to nonfiction tropes and techniques.”

True/False has not only made its 2018 program available online, but also Black Audio Film Collective 1980s–1990s, the monograph accompanying this year’s Neither/Nor program put together by programmer Ashley Clark. Neither/Nor explores “‘chimeric’ cinema, filmmaking that contains elements of fiction and nonfiction,” and the Collective “consisted of seven multidisciplinary and multimedia artists” with “backgrounds in fields such as psychology, sociology and fine art.” The image at the top is from John Akomfrah’s Handsworth Songs (1986).

Abby Ivory-Ganja and Haley Broughton have been talking with filmmakers for KBIA, and these True/False Conversations run just under four minutes each: Cristina Hanes (António e Catarina), Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside (América), Stephen Maing (Crime + Punishment), Khalik Allah (Black Mother), Tim Wardle (Three Identical Strangers), and Adriana Loeff and Claudia Abend (La Flor de la Vida).

“Both Rocío Álvarez and Aldana Bari Gonzalez were pretty typical teenagers when their aunt, the documentary filmmaker Laura Bari, decided her next film should be about the two girls’ journey to wholeness after both had suffered sexual abuse,” writes Allyson Vasilopulos, introducing an interview with the filmmaker and her subjects for the Missourian. Primas screens tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday.

For the Pitch, Dan Lybarger picks out a few highlights: Crime + Punishment, Bart Layton’s American Animals, Robert Greene’s Bisbee ’17, Steve Loveridge’s Matangi/Maya/M.I.A., Maxim Pozdorovkin’s Our New President, and Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

As notable reviews from this year’s edition appear, we’ll be making note of them here.

Updates, 3/2: At IndieWire, Chris O’Falt suggests that “at a time when so much in film feels derivative and stale, True/False’s curation lends itself to a sense of discovery of not just of new talent but of a movement of talented filmmakers tapping unexplored territory in what is still an incredibly young medium.”

Introducing his interview with cinematographer Alan Jacobsen, who’s worked with Yance Ford on Strong Island, Stephen Saito notes that “a must-see attraction” in Columbia at the moment “is housed in the Reynolds School of Journalism where the interview set-up for Strong Island has been painstakingly recreated (on the second floor in Smith 200 RJI), right down to the Luke 12:2 quote (‘There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be known’) and nearby bottles of Diet Mountain Dew and Immodium AD that gave Ford the strength and stamina to carry on.”

Update, 3/3: “At a relatively early point in Khalik Allah’s mesmerizing new film Black Mother, you hear a man describing the spread of Christianity in Jamaica as an organizing tool for a fractured civilization, one that’s never had autonomy since being colonized by the British who didn’t give up control over the region until well into the 20th century,” writes Stephen Saito. “‘Because we’re spiritual, we get caught up in religion,’ the man laments . . . A mix of various formats—VHS, crisp digital, black-and-white Bolex-shot film and scratchy archival [footage]—contribute to the sensation Allah elicits from traveling all across the island, places that are never explicitly identified, but that you come to feel so tangibly.”

Updates, 3/6: For the Film Stage, Daniel Schindel reviews Emmanuel Gras’s “top-notch process documentary,” Makala. And Miles Lagoze’s Combat Obscura “sinks deeper into darkness as it progresses, as the utter pointlessness and futility of America’s presence in Afghanistan overwhelms the troops.”

For Vague Visages, Schindel writes about Beata Bubenec’s Flight of a Bullet: “There is a legitimate argument to be made that this movie is morally deficient, perhaps even evil if did indeed enable a subject’s death through sloppiness. Yet it is also undeniably engrossing as an artistic piece.”

“It’s saying something that Leilah Weinraub’s Shakedown is every bit as wild as its subject, the titular band of black lesbian strippers who held court in Los Angeles during the late 1990s and early aughts,” writes Stephen Saito.

And Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside’s América, about three brothers questioning “their ninety-three-year-old grandmother América’s sense of reality,” is “an incredible film that tells a story that so often is relegated to the dark.”

Also, Rok Biček’s The Family is “an exceptionally rewarding endeavor, making one feel as if you’ve grown a little just by having the privilege to watch a young man do the same.”

Updates, 3/7: “Today, the work of the Black Audio Film Collective is extremely difficult to find,” writes Dan Schindel for Hyperallergic. “Their appearance at True/False hopefully presages a major rediscovery of them in the near future.” At the Film Stage, Schindel reviews Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and writes about Cristina Hanes’s António and Catarina for Vague Visages.

At RogerEbert.com, Vikram Murthi has posted the first part of what looks to become an extensive set of diary-like entries. “On the first official day of the festival, I attended a panel on nonfiction criticism moderated by critic and Museum of the Moving Image curator Eric Hynes. He, along with panelists Nick Pinkerton, Logan Hill, and Alissa Wilkinson, examined the historical dearth of critical writing on nonfiction films. Nothing was solved, but everything was addressed: an economic system that hinders this in-depth writing to flourish in the mainstream; the widespread media illiteracy that renders the public ill-equipped to engage with creative documentary filmmaking; the proliferation and subsidization of middling documentaries that take up streaming space and accomplish little else; and, of course, the prevalence of lazy critical writing that unintentionally limits the form in the eyes of the public.”

Updates, 3/8: “The cinematic sensibility with which Khalik Allah announced himself to the world in 2015’s Field Niggas finds brilliant refinement in Black Mother,” writes Dan Schindel at Vague Visages.

Vikram Murthi’s posted the second part of his diary at RogerEbert.com.

Update, 3/9: “For those exhausted, jaded, or just plain disinterested in what’s going on in the still-strong, ever-vibrant world of cinema, the True/False Film Festival should provide a powerful remedy,” writes Notebook editor Daniel Kasman, who then reviews Black Mother, Sophy Romvari’s Pumpkin Movie, Leilah Weinraub’s Shakedown, Leigh Ledare’s The Task, Gu Tao’s Taming the Horse, and John Akomfrah’s Testament (1988).

Update, 3/18: “What is the task of the documentarian?” asks Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov. “‘The task is to understand the here and now’ is the broadest possible answer, spoken as the prompt of Leigh Ledare’s The Task, which records a three-day conference conducted at the Art Institute of Chicago in May 2017. . . . Briefly, a group of participants, monitored by psychiatrists trained in the method plus a handful of silent observers, convene with a fairly open-ended agenda: to begin speaking among themselves about the roles they inhabit and interrogate group dynamics as they’re being constructed, inevitably leading to clarifications about how race, gender, social status et al. affect the anxieties, agendas and status of those in the room. . . . In practice, this means all hell breaks loose within five minutes.” More from Dan Schindel at Hyperallergic.

Rizov also writes about Pumpkin Movie, Black Mother, Dieudo Hamadi’s Kinshasa Makambo, Beata Bubenec’s Flight of a Bullet (this year’s “most what-is-this UFO”), América, and Boris Poljak’s short They Just Come and Go, “a pretty delightful slice of sustained (mostly) good vibes.”

Updates, 3/24: “For a born-and-bred New Yorker like me with little first-hand knowledge of the Midwest, my visit encouraged me to take a step back and realize that not only was New York not the center of the universe, but that the film community I’d been dying to be part of could exist beyond the confines of the concentrated places in which these industries exist,” writes Tayler Montague, who then goes on to review Shakedown, Black Mother, RaMell Ross’s Hale County This Morning, This Evening, and Handsworth Songs for Reverse Shot.

“Gimme Truth!, hosted by Brian Babylon, screened a series of short films so that three judges—and the audience — could guess whether they are authentic or fabricated pieces of media. The judges are filmmakers themselves—Sierra Pettengill (Graven Image [2017]), Chase Whiteside (América [2018]), and Sandi Tan (Shirkers [2018])—who are expected to know the how’s and why’s of film narration,” writes Irina Trocan for Kinoscope. “The rule: each judge could ask the (ostensible) filmmaker one question to find out whether the audiovisual fragment was coming from an actual film or not. . . . True/False unfolded like a version of the same guessing game, though with higher stakes: it implied active spectatorship and constant questioning of documentary/fiction conventions.”

And for Sight & Sound, Trocan writes about The Task and Bisbee ’17.

Update, 3/28: “Well-positioned in March as both top-of-the-calendar curator of Sundance 2018 documentary and importer of international films from Singapore to Amsterdam,” writes Film Comment editor Nicolas Rapold, “the Missouri-based festival again rolled out challenging work: the single-shot, ethically thorny Flight of a Bullet; the gallery-derived iterative portrayal of workplace meetings in The Task; the almost classical example of slow-cinema doc Self-Portrait: Birth in 47 KM (before it ascended into performance art); a skin-crawling up-close-and-personal visit with a homebody oldster lech, in the medium-length Antonio e Catarina. To my perennial shame/joy as a New Yorker who has attended his share of near-empty hometown rep screenings, these small films also attracted healthy crowds from this 120,000-strong university city, packing a converted church or hotel ballroom as well as grand theaters such as the Missouri.”

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