It’s taken me a full week to process the experience that was my second True/False Documentary Film Festival. It literally took my breath away; I developed bronchitis upon my return that still plagues me now as I write.
Although I had been aware of the festival’s existence for some time, it was not until last year that I decided to check out what was happening in my own backyard, a two hour drive from chez moi.
I was blown away by what I have been ignoring for over a decade. Last year, I missed out on a day’s worth of movies due to inclement weather.
For my sophomore visit, I wasn’t taking any chances. I stayed at the Tiger Hotel in the center of town, upgraded from a Simple to Lux pass, and was madly organized.
Neither was the festival taking any chances; it was moved forward a week to avoid conflicting with the Oscars (one of last year’s nominees actually chose to be at the festival rather than the ceremony) and to minimize the chance for ice storms and snow.
While I may not have seen as many movies this year, my experience was much richer.
Here’s what it was like to be at the center of the world:
Thursday: Day 1
The weather was wintry for the official opening movie of the festival, How To Change The World.
Early on the choices aren’t as dizzying as they later become, so a movie about the origins of Greenpeace would likely not have made my list of selections.
British Director Jerry Rothwell announced we were the first audience for this final cut (eighteen seconds shorter than the one that had screened at Sundance).
My expectations proved false; I presume this is one reason for the festival’s name.
As it turned out, this was a wonderful film! It focused on the people who founded what became Greenpeace and the challenges that they faced as they transformed from fickle hippies to an organized group with a common ecological imperative. There was some gory footage of whales being killed, but it’s integral to the story and does not feel gratuitous. Just cover your eyes as I did.
About three quarters of the way through, I recognized that one of the founding members is the intrepid Paul Watson (billed as Patrick Moore) whom I’d seen as an articulate, passionate guest on Bill Maher’s Real Time. He now stars in his own reality show Whale Wars and is the most inspiring cynosure in the film. Impressive man.
No time for dinner.
On to Morgan Neville (who missed last year’s festival to collect a Best Documentary Feature Oscar for Twenty Feet From Stardom) and co-director Robert Gordon’s Best Of Enemies , a nostalgic look back (even for those of us not yet conceived) of ABC’s coverage of the 1968 presidential conventions which featured the now famous/infamous debates between intellectuals William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal . Stay tuned for Le Movie Snob’s review when the movie is released in July by Magnolia Pictures.
Still no time for dinner.
I was graciously allowed to bring a salad into the next documentary Those Who Feel The Fire Burning, a selection to which I was looking forward. I have seen some UK television documentaries about the plight of migrants in Europe. This documentary did not in any way resemble the straightforward reportage I was expecting. It was a stream of consciousness artsy mess, inappropriate for its subject.
I walked out after fifteen minutes to get some proper nourishment. My judgment was later validated by other festival-goers who wished they had valued their time as much as I.
Friday: Day 2
No winter coat to schlep, SUNSHINE!!!
First up was Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look Of Silence, a movie festival founder David Wilson introduced as “the best documentary [he’s] ever seen,” one that has changed his entire view of filmmaking.
Oppenheimer was unfazed by that lofty introduction and humbled that the first screening was packed.
He took care to point out that this movie is a companion to his début feature, the masterpiece The Act Of Killing, not a sequel, reassuring those in the audience who had not seen his previous work. I highly recommend you see his first movie before this one is released in July.
The director’s cut, the version of that movie I reviewed, was screened at the festival and is currently available on Netflix, so you have plenty of time to prepare for what will be a more meaningful experience.
Those who went to subsequent screenings had the chance for a Q & A with the director and the movie’s protagonist, Adi Rukun.
It’s a hard movie to sit through and I was grateful to have the chance to express my feelings to the director in person.
I told him it is an exigent film -in the best sense of that word, not a deprecation. I believe it’s important that we see stories that make us uncomfortable. He was most gracious.
Understandably, I was not in the mood for a film about Orthodox Jewish lesbians in Probation Time, so I went to hear a conversation called “Try A Little Tenderness.”
Directors with movies screening at the festival spoke about “the line between trespassing and truth-telling.” Attending this panel turned out to be an excellent incentive to see their movies; it was an opportunity to establish a personal connection.
All of the movies discussed involved mental illness and/or trauma, and this theme continued as I moved on to Spartacus & Cassandra, one of only two French documentaries programmed. Staying afterwards to speak with the director Ionis Nuguet caused me to regretfully miss a documentary about the recent political upheaval in Egypt, I Am The People.
Tant pis pour moi.
Ionis told me they are still seeking distribution in the U.S., and I hope fervently they will find it as they take the film on the festival circuit. The film was released in France one month ago and is doing très bien. I do plan to review this unique and unsettling film.
I chose to skip Nick Broomfield’s Tales Of The Grim Sleeper assuming his renown will promise future viewing opportunities. The word on the street -an expression that has literal meaning at this festival- was very positive for his work.
For that evening’s final showing, I chose a far too long program of shorts, “You Can’t Get There From Here.” At least the venue was INSIDE my hotel.
It was here that I saw the best short of the festival, One Year Lease. Here is a taste:
There is a link posted for viewing the short in its entirety, but it is as fickle as their landlady.
If you are able to get the link to link, I highly recommend you take eleven minutes out of your life to watch it; many of us have spent much more time than this dealing with the same kind of distress director Brian Bolster and his partner endure.
I was too knackered to stay for the directors’ Q & A because it was after midnight, and I was planning to see a FOUR HOUR documentary the following morning.
About the shorts:
Even the bad ones weren’t nearly as awful as the documentary shorts nominated for the Oscars (with the notable exception of the winning Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 -from 2013???).
C’mon AMPAS. Does every documentary short have to have a tragic subject?
One Year Lease was HYSTERICAL, and I would think making a smart, humorous documentary is as considerable an accomplishment as bearing witness to other peoples’ miseries.
Saturday: Day 3
That four hour documentary I mentioned? Yeah, that didn’t happen.
I had a nightmare that reminded me of the seating at the venue where it was playing (an important consideration for every choice at True/False). I heard “on the street” that Century Of The Self (2002???) will be shown on HBO.
I had a back-up planned, (T)Error, a documentary about an undercover domestic terrorist sting operation filmed in real time as it unfolded in Pittsburgh without the FBI’s knowledge- so they say.
There’s a character in (T)Error whom I suspiciouly remember seeing in the HBO documentary The Newburgh Sting.
There was a lot of praise for this movie, but I didn’t stay for the Q & A with both directors that could have allayed some wariness I had about the “facts;” I was off to another panel.
“Art History” was described as “How does one engage the past to elucidate the present?”
It was being moderated by David France who directed one of the best documentaries EVER MADE: How To Survive A Plague. He had sent me an email praising my review, and I wanted to thank him personally.
I was grateful to learn the movie I was skipping to attend, What Happened, Miss Simone? will start showing on Netflix on June 26th. To hear the director Liz Garbus discuss her own movie is the best kind of preview, non?
Tant mieux again!
The panel was impressive: the aforementioned Morgan Neville, Roger Teich director of Jeff, Embrace Your Past (curiously not listed on imdb), and the unexpectedly thought-provoking Brett Morgen who directed Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck. I learned that it will premiere on HBO May 4th. I will most likely review his film and share his inspirational remarks.
Jeff, Embrace Your Past was double-billed with attendee Pia Borg’s Abandoned Goods, a short that introduced me to the concept of “Asylum Art.”
If you ever get a chance to see Jeff, I urge you to do so -not just to gawk at his pomposity- but for the interview Teich conducted with Koons’ father in the men’s room. To describe it would deprive you of the joy of the experience -discovering a magnificent example of human behavior that only documentaries can capture.
It’s the kind of scene that director Albert Maysles along with his brother David were masters at capturing. It was that afternoon that the world learned Albert had passed away at the age of 88. It was comforting to learn this sad news among so many artists he had inspired.
That evening, I chose to skip Going Clear since it will air on HBO at the end of the month (my apologies to Alex Gibney).
Instead, I went to see the film of a director I had met at the panel, Aaron Wickenden. That the venue was the one inside my hotel made this choice a clear one- get it?
Aaron had made a gentle plea to me to see his movie at the discussion and was kind enough to drop some red herrings my way so as not to spoil it.
For now, I will just say that it’s an X-rated episode of Hoarders that is profoundly life-affirming. Can’t imagine that?
Here’s some help:
Day 4: Sunday
The jump to Daylight Savings time is not welcome during a film festival. Especially when that Sunday morning’s planned screening is at the furthest possible venue. It was the other French documentary so I had no choice.
Rules Of The Game (Les règles du jeu) follows five high-school educated French youths in an economically depressed region in the north of France as they are trained at a government funded job training center, Ingeus, to interview, obtain, and ultimately, one hopes, hold onto a job.
An accidental star is born in this movie: Lolita Larré, an insouciante 19 year-old.
At the forty second mark in the trailer below, notice how she answers that dreaded “What is your biggest weakness?” question in a mock job interview:
That co-director Patrice Chagnard had already left, and that the movie’s other director Claudine Bories couldn’t stay for the Q & A because she had to catch her own flight, set a rather depressing tone for the last day of the festival. The crowds thin out and the Qs no longer intimidate as people start to leave.
I saw two documentary features that day that I am forbidden from discussing.
I’m not kidding.
They are Secret Screenings, distinguished by color and an obtuse description. The two movies I saw will début at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. I promise I will review them when the gag order is lifted.
My final True/False event was a shorter program of shorts culled under the heading “Girl You Know It’s True.”
It was there that I saw my second favorite short, Former Models (2011???). Knowing who Frank Farian is, I was able to appreciate this short more than most I expect will, but being a member of Generation X and having lived through the rise and fall of Milli Vanilli should suffice.
This unique film is a tribute to the late Rob Pilatus, one of the “illis.” I had trouble finding information about this movie on the internet; should you ever have the chance to see it, make certain to.
Another short from that program deserves mention, The Blazing World (2013??) by Jessica Bardsley. Its subject is the confluence of depression and kleptomania. She cleverly and compellingly uses footage from 1950s instructional movies as her own story is told via text screens interspersed throughout with news coverage of Winona Ryder’s 2001 arrest for shoplifting.
I walked out of one other movie at True/False: Heaven Knows What. The nicest thing I can say is the title was “true.”
A film about two heroin addicts, it felt like a narrative rather than a documentary, a suspicion confirmed by the guy sitting next to me.
A documentary about heroin addicts would have been interesting. Young, unknown actors chewing mouthfuls of scenery pretending to be heroin addicts is a special kind of torture. I tweeted it was another reason the word “false” is in the name of the festival.
Nonetheless, two walkouts does not a film festival ruin.
All the movies I missed at my first True/False festival were eventually released, either theatrically, on Netflix, VOD, or HBO. Donc, I am not overly distressed about the documentaries I wish I could have seen.
Apart from the earlier mention, I regret not seeing Laurent Bécue-Renard’s highly praised Of Men and War that covers several years in the lives of young veterans healing from PTSD. If you’re an L.A. Movie Snob, you have the opportunity to see this movie at the upcoming City Of Lights, City Of Angels (COLCOA) French Film Festival where it is in competition.
Another regret is Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel’s Finders Keepers. A festival attendee tweeted that he Q’ed three and a half hours to see this movie, and that it had been worth it!
When I relayed this to a festival board member, he told me he understood. He also loved the movie. Just listening to his synopsis, I nearly peed my pants.