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true or false: there are no small stories

true or false: there are no small stories

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In Gaige Larson’s art for the True/False Film Fest poster, a tan-haired man holding a T/F pass pauses at the door of his ground-floor apartment. He seems to be looking at a blonde woman with a T/F pass dangling from her purse as she walks into her apartment. Or maybe he’s eying a lamp in the corner with a sign that says “FREE.”
In the cutaway view of the apartment above, a man annoyed at the party upstairs pounds on his ceiling, surrounded by notes and sketches pasted to the wall (in homage to reclusive writer and artist Henry Darger) in a building that reminds one of the Dumas Building at University and Hitt.
Are these just a couple of small stories taking place behind the walls of the building?
It’s true the illustration is full of “micro-narratives,” as T/F festival founder David Wilson called them, but calling them small stories would be false.
“There are no small stories.” That’s the theme of the four-day festival, or T/F No. 7, that begins Feb. 25.
“That’s an ongoing theme of our festival, and we chose to draw attention to it this year,” Wilson said.
Although big-issue documentary films are great and valuable, “the films we really love are sort of character-driven,” Wilson said. “We meet, fall in love with and have experiences with the characters.”
He gives two examples:

  • One of the films this year is The Oath, which “in the big picture is about some of the biggest issues we face: the war on terror, how to deal with Al Qaeda. And yet, here’s a film that shows us a man and his son praying together when they wake up in the morning, an intimate scene. That’s the triumph of non-fiction filmmaking — to take large issues and find access points.”
  • In another T/F offering, Last Train Home, the scowl of a teenage daughter of Chinese migrant workers “was universal. That connects me sitting here in Columbia with a story and a family very far away.”

Character-driven films in last year’s festival included Carmen Meets Borat, in which Sasha Baron Cohen and crew show up in a small Romanian village at the same time that a filmmaker is documenting a girl’s life.
“It lets you understand other peoples’ lives and cultures,” said Wilson, who also recalls watching Afghan Star (about an American Idol-style TV show) last year and learning more about Afghan culture than he would have from any newscast or magazine article.
Wilson said he’s confident that T/F 2010 will prove to be another success, even with the severe economic downturn. He predicts the festival attendance will grow to 25,000, up about 10 percent or 2,000 from last year’s 23,000. That was up from 18,500 the year before.
“I think we’ve seen our meteoric growth taper off,” Wilson said, “but there’s only a certain size attendance we can accommodate.” All signs still show a growing awareness of the festival, he said, and more and more people are making the last weekend in February a destination weekend, “sort of an alternative homecoming.”

Community Support Stays Strong

Wilson said the festival will once again show about 40 films (about 35 features and several shorts) chosen from a pool of about 700 submissions) and will get close to or reach its goal of matching last year’s sponsorship income. “It feels like a victory for us not to have lost half our sponsorships,” he said. Organizers of the 11-year-old CineVegas Film Festival in Las Vegas put their event on hiatus this year due to the current economic climate, he noted.
“We’ve come to appreciate that we have a broad base of support and community-based support,” he said.
A $20,000 grant from the Academy Foundation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will help. The grant, the largest the True/False Film Fest has received, is part of $450,000 awarded to 24 U.S. film festivals being held this year.
Columbia Regional Airport came on as a sponsor this year to cover some transportation costs and enable more directors to fly directly to the city rather than taking shuttles from Kansas City and St. Louis. Wilson said the festival is bringing in about 75 directors and invited guests for the panel discussions, film introductions and other events.

Passes Still Available

As of late January, there were a handful of $300 Silver Circle passes and the new $500 Super Circle passes available for purchase at, said Paul Sturtz, festival co-founder. The ultra-access Super Circle passes are new this year and include a built-in $200 tax-deductible donation to support the festival. Only 20 were offered. Plenty of the $145 Lux passes and $60 Simple passes remain and can be purchased online up to the time of the festival as supplies last.
The complete list of T/F films will be posted on the Web site by the morning of Feb. 4. Starting at noon Feb. 8, Super and Silver Circle pass holders get first pick, followed by Lux and Simple pass holders on subsequent days. 7

Coming attractions

Racing Dreams

Directed by Marshall Curry (Street Fight), Racing Dreams is a look at three kids who dream of one day racing in NASCAR. Curry takes viewers into the lives of Annabeth (11), Josh (12) and Brandon (13) as they compete for the World Karting Association’s National Championship. Clocking speeds of up to 70 mph in extreme racing karts, the young racers hope to follow the many great NASCAR drivers who got their starts in racing’s version of Little League. (Look for a glimpse of Columbia’s Carl Edwards in the film.)
Waking Sleeping Beauty

By the mid-1980s, the fabled animation studios of Walt Disney had fallen on hard times. The artists were polarized between newcomers hungry to innovate and old timers not yet ready to relinquish control. The conditions produced a series of box office flops and pessimistic forecasts: Maybe the best days of animation were over. Maybe the public didn’t care. Only a miracle or a magic spell could produce a happy ending. Waking Sleeping Beauty is no fairy tale. It’s the true story of how Disney regained its magic with a staggering output of hits — Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and more — during a 10-year period.
The Invention of Dr. Nakamats
“A profound interest in Japanese culture led the (Danish) director Kaspar Astrup Schröder by coincidence to Dr. (Yoshiro) Nakamats, an eccentric inventor who by his own count holds more than 3,400 patents and is planning a final coup: living to be 144,” writes Eva Novrup Redvall in the Danish Film Institute’s FILM magazine. “The portrait of Dr. Nakamats is told with tongue in cheek, and it is not always clear who stages the story — the director or the inventor. Initially conceived as a tender, humorous portrait of an eccentric inventor, the film … expanded into a study of a man determined to fight death.”
Those Who Remain (Los Que Se Quedan)

The documentary shines a light on the families left behind by loved ones who have traveled north for work while also illuminating the rich glow of the Mexican spirit. Examining the emotional cost of long-term estrangement, directors Juan Carlos Rulfo and Carlos Hagerman find rich cinematic metaphors in the deserted, newly constructed homes on the highway, their empty rooms a powerful reminder of the absence of loved ones at otherwise joyous occasions such as communions and graduations. Despite this void in their communities, many of those profiled emerge as colorful characters with boundless vitality and wonderful senses of humor.
The Oath
The Oath, directed by Laura Poitras, tells the story of Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard, and Salim Hamdan, a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay Prison and the first man to face the controversial military tribunals. Filmed in Yemen and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, The Oath is a family drama about two men whose fateful encounter in 1996 set them on a journey that would lead to Osama bin Laden, 9/11, Guantanamo Bay Prison and the U.S. Supreme Court. “Themes of family, guilt, betrayal, regret, loyalty, absence, etc. are not typically things that come to mind when we imagine a film about Al Qaeda and Guantanamo, so the story compelled me,” Poitras said.
Last Train Home

Last Train Home, a debut film from Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan, draws viewers into the fractured lives of a single migrant family caught up in a desperate annual migration. Every spring, China’s cities are plunged into chaos as all at once a tidal wave of humanity attempts to return home by train. It is the Chinese New Year. The wave is made up of millions of migrant factory workers. The homes they seek are the rural villages and families they left behind to seek work in the booming coastal cities. It is an epic spectacle that tells us much about China, a country discarding traditional ways as it hurtles toward modernity and global economic dominance. — EyeSteelFilm Inc.

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