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The best of this year’s True/False documentary festival

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The best of this year’s True/False documentary festival

Nearly yearly since graduating from college in 2014, I’ve journeyed again from one coast or one other to my former school city of Columbia, Missouri, within the title of movie to attend True/False – a singular documentary competition within the heart of the US.

Having True/False in my yard all through school, I took with no consideration how extraordinary it was till I ended up hundreds of miles away. Returning, I’m all the time struck by the massive questions True/False asks, the spirit of experimentation it embodies, and the unimaginable group that rallies round it.

Based by native curators David Wilson and Paul Sturtz, True/False is understood for its balanced mixture of experimental work and conventional narrative movies. Whereas many festivals appear to cater extra closely to business and press, True/False additionally appeals to a big proportion of locals who merely come to understand the artwork of documentary film-making. And although it typically is the subsequent cease on the competition circuit after Sundance, it’s not closely awards-centric nor an occasion the place huge distribution offers are made, making a laid-back setting the place film-makers can get pleasure from international expertise in an setting of small-town hospitality.

The competition celebrated its twentieth anniversary this yr, marking the event with a lineup that embodied its mission of interrogating the ever-thin line between fact and fiction. As its web site’s programming web page says: “Movies are sometimes slotted into two classes – documentary and fiction – however we consider that each movie falls someplace in between.”

An image from Joonam
A picture from Joonam. {Photograph}: Sundance movie competition

This yr True/False screened 33 function movies and 25 brief movies, together with numerous US debuts and a handful of worldwide debuts. Chloé Trayner, a curator who took over programming for the competition in 2021, mentioned this yr’s movies have been extra intimate in nature and sought to attach the non-public to broader political points.

“We confirmed a whole lot of private movies that had wider discussions behind them, which was actually thrilling to see,” she mentioned. “Lots of our movies engaged with the concept of the best way to inform tales about communities from completely different views, reasonably than as an outsider.”

Such movies included Hummingbirds, during which the 2 main topics are additionally co-directors, documenting their summer season spent collectively in a Texas border city. The Style of Mango follows a film-maker’s journey to restore the long-strained relationship between her mom and grandmother, and Joonam, during which a film-maker makes an attempt to interrupt down language boundaries along with her Iranian grandmother and reconnect along with her heritage.

Trayner mentioned such programming was consistent with themes of decolonization and “occupied with energy dynamics in documentary film-making” – which in lots of instances means letting topics inform their very own tales. Nowhere within the competition was this extra evident within the competition than in The Stroll, a movie concerning the historical past of the LGBTQ+ motion and New York’s meatpacking district, as instructed by the transgender intercourse employees who lived and labored there. It options archival footage from the period and was led by director Kristen Lovell, who mirrored on her personal experiences locally.

“That’s one thing that’s actually thrilling to me – to maneuver away from this concept of film-maker as voyeur and truly actually confronting the relationships that film-makers must have with the folks that they’re making movies about, or the locations they’re making movies about,” Trayner mentioned. “It’s about having the ability to do it in a respectful, mutually helpful manner.”

Archival movies basically appear to be having a second – maybe partly as a result of Covid-19 pandemic, which made in-person filming tougher in recent times. Final yr’s True/False screened Fireplace of Love – a largely archival movie about two volcanologists who died in 1991, which was a nationwide success and is now nominated for an Oscar. This yr True/False hosted the premiere of Timebomb Y2K – a completely archival movie that tells the story of fears of technological collapse on the flip of the century.

True/False programming typically relishes the grey areas of movie – the place characters are nuanced and blissful endings will not be so clear reduce. However this yr a number of movies adopted extra conventional, plot-driven arcs, together with Unhealthy Press – a few Native American information outlet struggling for journalistic freedom beneath tribal legislation and Going Varsity in Mariachi – a few highschool mariachi band competing in state competitions.

A still from Bad Press
A nonetheless from Unhealthy Press. {Photograph}: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

“It was essential to us to deal with movies that centered on pleasure as an alternative of simply trauma,” mentioned Trayner. “A whole lot of our movies nonetheless contact on concepts of trauma, and there could also be a political backdrop, however they finally heart on pleasure and love.”

No movie embodied all the central True/False themes – community-led tales, the interrogation of goal fact and distinctive makes use of of archival footage – than Anhell69, a gripping docu-fiction located within the queer group of Medellín, Colombia.

The movie wove itself round director Theo Montoya’s prior makes an attempt to make a B-movie set in a dystopian model of town, during which folks start to die so shortly that they can’t be buried, and ghosts start to stroll among the many dwelling. In a haunting and poetic voiceover, Montoya describes having to desert the movie as many members of the solid died of overdoses or suicide and he began to “attend extra funerals than birthday events”.

Anhell69 makes use of archival footage of Instagram feeds and interviews with family members to weave a phenomenal portrait of queer group, resilience and a young craving for a greater life. Regardless of the unimaginable darkness on the heart of the movie, Montoya’s deep compassion for his topics shines by way of the fog of grief, giving the movie a way of affection that just about presents itself as a shadow of hopefulness. The end result is a beautiful and undefinable portrait of a group steeped in magical realism. Maybe one of the best ways to explain the movie is because it described itself: a “boundless, trans movie” that – just like the group it follows – defies categorization.

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