Guest post by Caitlyn Stevens, IU Cinema’s Social Media Specialist and Marketing & Engagement Assistant, who attended her seventh True/False Film Festival earlier this month.
Anyone who knows me associates me with film — it’s what I do for work, what I talk and obsess about, what I study, and what I do in my free time. This wasn’t always the case. I originally went to the University of Missouri (Mizzou) for Journalism, but at the beginning of my sophomore year, I dropped out of the “J-School” and started from scratch. I had no idea what I was actually interested in, let alone what I wanted to study or do for a career. The seeds of my film fixation had been planted through Ragtag Cinema and the adjacent video rental store 9th Street Video (RIP), but ultimately, I was stagnant.
…and then I went to my first film at the True/False Film Festival.
Now in its 16th year, the True/False Film Festival has merged with Ragtag Cinema to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts organization called Ragtag Film Society, focusing on a mission “to champion independent film and media art and serve film communities both locally and globally.” The festival itself takes place over four days in early March and transforms Columbia (a college town much like Bloomington) into a vibrant hub of artists, musicians, filmmakers, film critics, and other creatives who come together in celebration of art and community. For this one special weekend, buskers perform around town and before each film, streets are shut down by installations and parades, and local artists turn each venue into its own immersive experience. T/F is more than just a film festival – it is an exploration in creative placemaking.
At the center of it all, though, it is still a celebration of documentary cinema. With films that are intentionally curated to inspire and challenge, “True/False exists in a permeable, in-between land – bounded by fiction and nonfiction, but also bridging cultures and disciplines” (truefalse.org). This innovative intersection of “creative nonfiction” has grown to thrill and fascinate me, but prior to 2012, I had a very narrow understanding of what documentary film is or could be. All of the documentaries I had been exposed to felt dry and boring, so it took an extra credit opportunity for me to finally buy a ticket to a True/False film.
The film was Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, and although I had no previous exposure to the film’s subject, I was blown away. This wasn’t boring at all! Director Alison Klayman’s portrait of the Chinese artist was intimate, subversive, thought-provoking, and beautiful. I attended two more films that year and the rest, as they say, is history. It was the subsequent years I spent volunteering and working with T/F that led me to my current positions at IU Cinema and my interest in pursuing arthouse cinema or film festival work as a career.
Mizzou considers itself “The Birthplace of Homecoming,” and while I care very little for football, T/F has certainly become mine. Every year in March, I return to my home-away-from-home to reunite with old friends and celebrate the infinite possibilities of creative nonfiction cinema.
This year’s T/F was made particularly special by the opportunity to bring my partner, Trace Brady, to his first ever film festival. Over the long weekend, we battled the crowds and snow of Downtown Columbia to hop from venue to venue, squeezing in time for food, drinks, music, and friends between nine film screenings. Highlights included the audience’s standing ovation after Rachel Lears’ galvanizing Knock Down the House, the absurd humor of Comedy Central’s Nathan Fielder, the rabbit-hole conversations about LARPing and storytelling provoked by The Magic Life of V, and the peaceful, reflective 4 am car ride that took us back home. I guess if there’s a moral to the story, it’s this: professors should always offer extra credit for film screenings when they can. You never know when it may change someone’s life.
Carlos Reygadas’ Nuestro Tiempo was in this year’s festival as one of the few fiction films programmed. You can catch the film at the IU Cinema on March 28 with writer/director/actor Reygadas scheduled to be present. This screening is part of the Cinema’s series Carlos Reygadas: His Time, which is the first complete retrospective of Reygadas’ work in the U.S., and the International Arthouse Series.
Another film that was programmed at True/False, the buzzed-about Aretha Franklin documentary Amazing Grace, can be seen this summer at the Cinema as one of our International Arthouse titles. Screening information will be announced soon!
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry was previously shown at the Cinema in 2012 with director Alison Klayman in attendance. That screening was also part of the International Arthouse Series as well as the East Asian Film Series.
To see a recap of the 2019 True/False Film Festival, click here.
Caitlyn Stevens graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Arts with emphases in Women & Gender Studies and Film Studies in 2015. A passionate cinephile and art house cinema enthusiast, Caitlyn is now pursuing a masters of arts in Arts Administration at Indiana University.