Some people look askance at the prospect of a very good film festival popping up in Columbia, Missouri, but many of them are the same people who freeze their toes every January trudging between movies in Park City, Utah. Columbia makes perfect sense compared to that. The True/False Film Festival takes place in the middle of the country, just a short drive west from St. Louis, in what is arguably Missouri's hippest city (don't hurt me, Kansas City). The films screen within easy walking distance of one another in Columbia's lovely downtown, a strip of pre-sprawl America that sits on the edge of the University of Missouri campus, which explains all the cheap food and vintage clothing stores. Wi-fi is abundant. Volunteers are helpful. Parking is plentiful. But you won't need your car. Just walk.
The filmmakers are here and seem eager to answer questions about their work or chat informally after screenings, many of which take place at the Ragtag Cinema, a two-screen hive of activity fronted by a cafe as big as the theaters themselves. You can carry your glass of wine into the movie if you want, and there you'll be greeted not by mindless muzak or advertising but by live music from local musicians who play before every show. My first screening Thursday night was ushered in by some groovy noise courtesy of Witch Pussy. (Or was it "Which"? Good question.) Tonight it was a guy singing country with his guitar and later a bluegrass duo.
The Ragtag screens interesting fare year-round and is also a model for the Moxie Cinema three hours south in Springfield, which, despite the cool indie theater, is arguably Missouri's least hip city. I can say this because I grew up there, and now I ask you: what's not to love about seeing adventurous film spring from Columbia and arc at least as far as the rolling hills of the Ozarks and, given the number of people who've made the trek to True/False in recent years, probably quite a bit further.
I missed the parade that kicks off the festival, but that's OK. I'm mostly here for the films, a long, full weekend of leading-edge nonfiction work, the best documentaries from Sundance, Cannes, and other festivals, including this year's Oscar winner and probably next year's, too. To keep things interesting, the festival is screening several "secret" films that they're not allowed to name because these movies will soon have their official premieres at larger festivals in, say, Austin or thereabouts. Shhh. People here will see them first.
I'm hoping to catch as many films as I can, and here's what I've seen in this year's lineup, so far: