True/False 2020

Alexander Nanau’s Collective (2019)

The “transformative, rambunctious, ecstatic experience” of the True/False Film Festival “creates a cathartic journey that forces participants to do nothing less than to reimagine reality.” That’s quite a bombastic mission statement, but talk to just about anyone who’s attended and they’ll tell you that T/F lives up to its promise. There’s more, too: “Our goal is to forge a supportive, celebratory refuge for filmmakers and amplify the possibilities of creative nonfiction.” This year’s edition, the seventeenth, opens today in Columbia, Missouri, and runs through Sunday. Basil Tsiokos, who programs documentaries for Sundance and DOC NYC, has a quick and handy overview of this year’s world premieres.

Several of the three dozen or so features lined up for T/F 2020 will arrive straight from Sundance, and in the new issue of Film Comment, Eric Hynes writes about three of them. In Dick Johnson Is Dead, Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson) braces for the loss of her father by staging and restaging his death—with his enthusiastic cooperation. Lance Oppenheim’s debut feature, Some Kind of Heaven,focuses on four residents in a sprawling retirement community in Florida. And in Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent,a private investigator hires an eighty-three-year-old man to go undercover in a nursing home. “Dealing with subjects of an advanced age, some suffering from advanced illness, these are films that are haunted by potential finality,” writes Hynes. “But they’re also inversely oxygenated by a shared sense of appreciation for what’s been recorded and afforded by the camera, by the potential of film to not just attend to matters of life and death but also create from it.”

Last week, the International Federation of Film Critics gave its FIPRESCI prize for the best film in the Berlinale’s new Encounters competition to Catarina Vasconcelos’s The Metamorphosis of Birds, calling it “a piercingly beautiful evocation of the past in cinematic form, as delicate as the the wings of a sparrow and as fragile and as intricate as an assemblage by Joseph Cornell.” Wavering between fiction and nonfiction, Vasconcelos retraces the at times tragic history of her family and her country, Portugal, in what for Ed Frankl at the Film Stage is a “strange, difficult, beguiling film.”

In The Viewing Booth,which screened in the Berlinale’s Forum program, director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz asks Maia Levi, an Israeli-American student, to watch a series of videos documenting Israeli violence against Palestinians. He asks her to describe how she feels about what she’s seeing, and a few months later, he invites her to return to his studio to watch his footage of her reactions. As Ela Bittencourt points out in the Notebook, this is “a film that’s primarily about fleeting facial reactions, and the turn of words.”

Writing for Tablet, A. J. Goldman notes that Alexandrowicz “has conducted an experiment about the power of image-based propaganda in the digital age. But the film is equally valuable, and unique, as a portrait of what happens when a young American Jew’s unconditional love and support for Israel endures an extreme stress test. One doesn’t walk out of the film thinking Levi is delusional or in denial. Quite the contrary, she comes across as sensitive, intelligent, and nonfundamentalist. The film makes the audience—regardless of their politics—engage seriously with a young pro-Israel American Jew’s point of view.” The Viewing Booth will see its New York premiere on March 15 when it screens as part of First Look festival.

Last summer in Locarno, Ja’Tovia Gary’s The Giverny Document (Single Channel)won the Moving Ahead award and a special mention went to Jessica Sarah Rinland’s Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another.“Over the past five years, Gary’s synthesis of experimental filmmaking tradition with what she has called a ‘radical black femme gaze’ has made her one of the most closely watched young documentarians in the art and film worlds alike,” writes Alex Greenberger at ARTnews, and her new forty-two-minute film is “a complex meditation on the legacy of colonialism and the denigration of black women’s bodies over the centuries.” In Harlem, Gary approaches black women on the street and asks, “Do you feel safe?” She then juxtaposes this footage with a performance of “Feelings” by Nina Simone in 1976. “Simone’s tonality, intonation, and raspiness play a central role in the pace of the film,” writes Rianna Jade Parker for frieze. A new three-channel extension of The Giverny Document is currently on view at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York through March 21.

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