As I mentioned before, all my time outside of work was spent on the True/False Film Fest, our local documentary festival. I was busy Tweeting (both live and scheduled) throughout the week and weekend. Additionally, I wrote a few of bits for the T/F blog which will eventually get director’s cut treatment here. Also, I have a music recap of the fest that will make an appearance at some point this week. All of the following posts can be found at The CoMo Collective, a collaborative community blogging project of which I’m part, or just scroll down and read about my fest.
Normally, we don’t have a February 29th. So, that may explain why Wednesday is the new Thursday for True/False, another day we rarely get to enjoy. Usually, things don’t get started until Thursday, but Wednesday was a busy one in CoMo. Yes, crews are always prepping venues up until the last minutes, but this Wednesday had a different vibe. It really did feel as though True/False was underway, one day early, a day we only receive every four years.
Ticket & Pass Pickup (5:00 – Box Office)
Have you ever seen a cooler space than the True/False box office? No, you haven’t. Rebecca has documented it well in her photo essays, but you need to see it for yourself. Installations are everywhere. Even the floor was a sight to behold. My words won’t do it justice. You just have to stop in at the corner of Broadway and Hitt to see the best interior of any building in CoMo for yourself.
Of course, I didn’t go there for the aesthetics. Although, they didn’t hurt. Nope, I was there to pick up passes and reserved tickets. T/F has always maintained an efficient ticketing process, but this may have been the best setup I’ve seen in the seven years I’ve attended the fest. The space didn’t hurt, but the efficiency of the ticket and pass reclamation was so smooth and pleasant, I could hardly believe it. I mean, usually in these situations, one build up anticipation which soon turns to anxiety as volunteers stumble to move the line and retrieve your packets. Not this year. My hat goes off to the staff and volunteers running the show. The box office experience was easily the best I’ve had yet.
And in just the other room, the merch is – as always – loaded with must-haves. T-shirt designs by some local artists/crafters really give the merch that authentic feel that can only be found at True/False. I walked away with a hoodie (now I have a green one!) and a t-shirt designed by our own Ben Chlapek. It also didn’t hurt that the merch was under control thanks to the guidance from Butterfly Tattoo’s Amanda Vander Tuig.
Also in the merch area was the music crew. Amanda Rainey greeted me and chatted for a bit. A little later, Justin Nardy showed up with a stack of his hand-printed posters featuring the bands at this year’s fest. The music merch section looks way more formidable this year and should be a place for me to lose more money.
Based on a True Story Conference (6:00 – MU campus)
I was supposed to register for this conference with T/F tie-ins at the J-School, but I spent too much time chatting with the many fine people at the box office. So, this one will have to wait, but I’m excited to catch a panel or three over the next couple of days. More to come on this conference…
I arrived in time for part of the Q&A, but Ashley and David did not. Their flight was slightly delayed, causing them to miss their Mo-X shuttle. So, they eventually Skyped in for the Q&A after the film while riding in a van from St. Louis. For all the intrigue and questions the film conjures, their stories in relation to the film only add more. This is why we stay for Q&A as often as possible throughout the fest.
This is the unofficial official start of the fest and it’s hard to believe that any showcase will outdo the one at Eastside Tavern last night. Three bands – two local, one from Milwaukee – whipped the crowd into a pretty good frenzy for Wednesday.
Enemy Airship opened the night and one could say the entire festival.If I wanted to hear Broken Social Scene, I’d probably watch them on Pitchfork TV, but this was a close enough facsimile. I certainly don’t mean that in negative way. The band is fun, even danceable, especially as compared to their previous incarnation, Nonreturner. The set was topped off with a particularly earnest cover of New Order’s “Age of Consent”. It’s too bad no one could hear the keyboards.
Another local, Hott Lunch, played second. I had heard a lot of good things and the band did not disappoint. From punk to classic rock, this band was all over the place aggression, hitting all the right influences. I’d like to hear them focus in on one thing, but they do so many so well. Maybe that’s not so bad. Either way, it was an enjoyable set.
The closers were CATACOMBZ. With a light show few have witnessed in Eastside, the band beat the audience into submission and told them to dance without directly telling the so, yet they obeyed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a band come in and just move the entire crowd into convulsions.
It was an excellent start to the fest. I can’t wait to actually sit down and watch a film. That will start around 4:30. Expect a full report tomorrow…
Thursday is the new Friday, or something like that. I was able to fit in a #BOATS panel, three films, and a showcase. Remember when nothing happened on Thursday? Good thing I’m taking a day off today. Anyway, here’s the rundown.
Based on a True Story Conference (1:30 – J-School)
Maybe the smartest thing the J-School has done (I said maybe) is align themselves with the fest. The panels are filled with filmmakers and film experts/journos/bloggers while an audience mostly made up of journalism academics grill them. It was friendlier than that, but only mildly.
Sometimes it’s hard to live in a town of so many journalists. Everyone’s looking for a particular kind of truth. So, during a panel on transparency, the journalists wanted more transparency while the film folk didn’t care for it. They didn’t run from transparency, but they also didn’t see the need for announcing that scenes were staged or the fact they, as filmmakers, were interfering with their subjects’ lives. I have to side with the filmmakers on this one. There are many truths, even some not taught in the J-School. When I watch a well-crafted nonfiction film, I’m not always concerned with the filmmaker’s manipulation to get a shot. If that shot is beautiful, let it play and just enjoy. These films are more art than newscast. Yes, they tell true stories and feature real subjects, but it’s art.
There were more intellectual discussions than that, but that’s another discussion for someone else’s book.
The Waiting Room (4:30pm – Forrest Theater)
What a way to start the fest. The Waiting Room is gut-wrenching watching people down on their luck spend a day in the ER waiting room. Each story is harder to watch than the last. I knew I was in for a tough watch as soon as the father worrying about his daughter was introduced within the first five minutes. The film shines a light on what a disservice our current (pre and post-Obamacare) system does for people’s well-being while simultaneously capturing the subjects’ humanity. Really, this was an excellent start to the fest.
Nature Walk were the buskers. I got a big Violent Femmes vibe as they ripped through their set, doing whatever they could to keep the crowd entertained. The video below shows them in a somewhat more somber tone, reminding of One Foot in the Grave-era Beck.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (7:00pm – The Blue Note)
I Tweeted this…
From my perspective, it seemed as if the filmmaker sort of stumbled upon a feature film, finding a great subject and being smart enough to let the camera roll. Ai Weiwei is maybe the most engaging subject I’ve seen at T/F. For what
1/2 Revolution (9:45pm – The Blue Note)
Maybe the most incredible footage I’ve ever seen took place in this film. I felt like I was in Cairo during the people’s uprising. However, the dude needs an editor. There’s no story and I can only watch so many minutes of dudes shouting f-bombs into their cell phones from their apartments. So, the whole experience was chaotic, even amazing, but I would have liked a story.
Busking in the Blue Note were the Toughcats. The ‘Cats are part of a contingent of Maine residents who make an annual pilgrimage to CoMo for the fest. Their drummer is the most energetic thing I’ve seen.
Mojo’s Showcase (Bassdrum of Death, Jerusalem and the Starbaskets, and Ming Donkey One-Man Band)
I missed the openers, but Jerusalem and Bassdrum were plenty to make the late night worth it. Jerusalem and the Starbaskets added a second guitarist that really filled out their sound. This was followed up by Bassdrum of Death and their punk rock dirge. I swear they were eighteen-year-olds from 1992 behind all that hair. They were pretty great, even if they did rip us a new collective…
Check Day 1 here and come back for day 3.
Photo credits: top photo is Rebecca Allen’s; screenshot of the Tweet is mine, and the rest belong to Benjamin Gross
There are not enough hours in the day for all the music and film I attempted to take in this past weekend. I tried to find moments to blog it all for our dear readers, but there was no time for that as well. Besides attending the fest, I spent a large amount of time Tweeting from the fest’s account. So, I was effectively volunteering the entire fest, joining my 900+ brothers and sisters. Although, they were all working hard while I was watching film after film.
Either way, I saw and experienced a lot. You can check my recaps from the first two days (1 & 2), but this is what I saw over the weekend. Feel free to contribute your own good times and impressions in the comments. Much of the fest is a blur, so I’ll need your help.
The Vanishing Spring Light (12:00pm – Little Ragtag)
Typically, films like this one suck. The filmmakers hung out with a Chinese matriarch during her last days. She’s had a bad fall and her health is deteriorating by the day. It’s hard to watch someone die, but the filmmakers somehow made it all bearable. Interestingly, the film is supposed to be the first in a trilogy that documents the “re-purposing” of an entire city. Throughout this tale of one person’s final days above ground, you begin to notice that neighbors are being moved out. A large “X” is taped on nearly every door in the neighborhood… It really was an intriguing film that makes me anticipate parts two and three. Believe it or not, it didn’t feel like anything near the two hours it took to tell this story.
Secret Screening Orange (2:30pm – Big Ragtag)
Full disclosure: this film was created by friends of mine. That’s about all I can tell you as secret screenings are strictly confidential. You see, T/F can show certain films as long as they can maintain premier status at other festivals. Amazingly, folks are really good about not sharing information all over the web concerning these films. This one was good as were the other two secret screenings I saw. Again, that’s about all I can say.
The Ambassador (7:00pm – Jesse)
Mads Brügger is a genius. From the man who brought us Danes for Bush and The Red Chapel comes a film about a man who takes whatever measures necessary to set himself up as an a diplomat in the Central African Republic in order to obtain blood diamonds. Through “envelopes of happiness” and a fake match factory, Brügger utilizes absurdity to demonstrate just how easy it is to smuggle blood diamonds from Africa. Maybe the most absurd moment is the transition in which he plays a cassette tape of sounds produced by whales for two Pygmy men. I don’t know that I understood it all on the first watch, but it’s easy to identify Brügger’s genius and sense of the absurd.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (10:00pm – Forrest Theater)
For documentary film geeks, Mads Brügger is a superstar. However, for the average film-goer, two names are at the forefront. One is Michael Moore and the other is Morgan Spurlock, creator of Super-Size Me. Spurlock made it to the fest with his highly entertaining documentary on the annual event for geeks that happens every year in San Diego. Unfortunately, Spurlock didn’t make it for this screening. However, two of the subjects were on hand, including CoMo’s own Skip Harvey, an aspiring comic book illustrator and bartender at Eastside Tavern (where Spurlock eventually showed up Saturday night).
@ction! Party/Friday Night Showcase
All that you need to know about @ction Party is that there are two primary rooms for dancing. (The rest of the space is utilized for socializing, drinking, and getting a portrait taken in the T/F photo booth.) The first is out in the open, just below the go-go dancers and is primarily populated with aging hipsters dancing to the music of their youth. The second is a cramped, closed-in space that you’ll smell way before you ever enter. Being of a certain age, I stayed out of this second room, but I can’t deny the fun being had inside.
Secret Screening Lavender (10:00am – Forrest Theater)
Saturday is a marathon day. We all still have energy and just enough sleep from the night before to carry on. However, this excellent film nearly took the wind out of our sails as it depicted some rather disheartening and devastating events. As mentioned before, I can’t tell you a thing about this film except that it joined SS Orange as two of my top three or four films of the fest.
Summer of Giacomo (12:30pm Forrest Theater)
Somewhat experimental, this film barely matched its own description as a story of a boy experiencing cochlear implants. For the first 4/5 of the film, it was a nearly-perfect summer love story, ending with a
nearly-perfect closing scene. Then, it attempted to hint at the story in the description. Still, even with this disconnect between film and “extra” scene, Summer was a pleasant surprise.
Bully (3:30pm – Jesse)
So, Lavender was gut-wrenching and the next film was beautiful. The third film of the day nearly did me in. Bully never let up. From one segment to the next, I cried as one story after another of kids being victimized and sometimes re-victimized by the adults in charge of protecting them was told. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and I was a little exhausted from the entire experience. It’s an important film every educator and middle school student should see. It’s criminal that this film is rated R. If you missed it, every student accompanied by a parent will get in free to the Ragtag. Keep an eye on the Ragtag’s sitefor further information.
The Queen of Versailles (6:30pm – Jesse)
After Bully, we were too exhausted to see another film. A drink was in order… several in fact.
Argentinian Lesson (8:30pm – Forrest Theater)
At this point in the evening, I was still not in the mood for a film. I won’t say anything bad about this film as my wife assures me that it was better than I remember, sweet even. So, I’ll leave it at that. The problem was me and not the film. Queue it up on Netflix and give it a go. I may give it a second chance myself.
Building Babel (10:00pm – Little Ragtag)
If Bully had sucked out my will to see films, there was no way I’d make it though another. So, I skipped my second film of the fest and opted for Mojo’s A-Go-Go instead…
Mojo’s A-Go-Go (10:00 – Mojo’s)
By this time of the night, there was a full-on buzz in the air. I was ready to rock out and leave the worries of Bully behind me. Highlighting what proved to be a fantastic musical lineup, the Saturday night show at Mojo’s certainly did not disappoint. I missed Cassie Morgan (although great as a busker), but Dark Dark Dark, Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship?, and Believers completely brought the house down. (I’ll report more on the music lineup later this week.)
More happened late Saturday, early Sunday, but I’m not at liberty to tell. Just know that the Saturday of True/False weekend is easily the most eventful of every year in CoMo. (Note: Basically, there was a party I’m not at liberty to write about. At said party was a pretty big celebrity whom will remain anonymous so that I can maintain a good relationship with the fest.)
Detropia (10:00am – The Blue Note)
With very little sleep at this point, we rolled into the Blue Note for Detropia. This was a well-told story of the fastest dying in the US. It’s a sad love story for a town that was once so prominent, only to fall to the dangers of depending too much on just one industry. The film was strangely paired with Meaning of Robots which would have been more appropriately named F***ing Robots, IMO.
Going Up the Stairs (1:00pm – The Picturehouse)
After two infotaining and heart-warming shorts, Going up the Stairs painted the portrait of an Iranian artist, her process, and her struggle to make her Paris premier. Under the story, we found an interesting commentary on the relationship between husband and wife in a society such as Iran’s. There are criticisms to made, but the portrayal of the film’s subjects suggests a more thoughtful response than to simply dismiss gender inequalities of an Arab nation.
Secret Screening Blue (3:00pm – Little Ragtag)
Again, there’s nothing I can tell you about this one. It was good. The one thing you should take from this is that the secret screenings are definitely worth checking out at future fests.
Canícula (5:30pm – Little Ragtag)
Exhaustion meant that we had to skip this film in order to eat and save ourselves for the final film of the fest. It sounded somewhat anthropological and tired eyes aren’t intended for such things. So, rather than take up a seat that could be better suited to someone waiting patiently in the “Q”, I opted to eat.
The Imposter (8:00pm – The Blue Note)
The last film of the fest not located in Jesse or the Missouri Theatre was the intense story of a man who passes himself as a runaway, opening up many questions about a Texas boy’s disappearance. Full of suspense and mystery, The Imposter recalls Forbidden Lie$, also a former T/F doc. It’s hard to imagine the twists and turns this film takes, but it was an excellent way to close out our fest.
Although I volunteered, making what many think is the best party of the fest was just not in the cards for me. This fest would not happen if it weren’t for the volunteers. They deserve more than a party, but I believe the continued success of the fest is reward enough.
No worries if you missed this year’s edition of True/False. The tenth fest will happen at the end of February next year. So, there will be opportunities to have your own T/F experiences before you know it.