Columbia, Missouri's True/False Film Fest Part 1: Documentaries Galore!

by Kevin Wierzbicki

The True/False Film Fest, one of the most prestigious documentary film festivals in North America, took place February 29 - March 3, 2024 in Columbia, Missouri, the hip city that's home to Mizzou, the University of Missouri. Drawing film fans from throughout the nation and documentary filmmakers from the world over, the True/False Film Fest presented dozens of feature length films and a healthy selection of shorts at various venues in the city's very walkable downtown area, many of which are not normally places where movies are shown. And along with all the cinematic entertainment there was plenty of music to be enjoyed as buskers acted as warmup acts for the screenings. The four day event is basically one long party and there are special events for revelers throughout the festival; we'll talk about those and the music in Part 2 of our coverage.

The True False Film Fest logo is visible everywhere during the festival

A film from the Eurasian nation of Georgia got the honor of being the first documentary to screen at this year's True/False Film Fest. Called "Magic Mountain," the film co-directed by Mariam Chachia and Nik Voight was also making its U.S. debut. Like many of the films shown during the festival, "Magic Mountain" is cloaked in sadness and tugs at the heartstrings with its chronicle of tuberculosis sufferers who are receiving treatment at a sanatorium called Abastumani that, tucked into the Georgian woods far from anywhere else, keeps the contagion isolated. It is difficult enough to watch these patients, many on their death bed, take their injections, IV drips and handfuls of pills to lessen their misery, but it is also a bit jarring to know that the film's narrator is director Chachia, at one time a tuberculosis patient herself. Chachia beat the disease at home and never had to enter a sanatorium, but her narration drips with empathy, palpable even though most viewers have to learn what she's saying through the film's subtitles. The documentary is shot primarily in winter and the season's starkness adds to the film's noir-ish quality. As with most films where directors were present at their screenings, Chachia and Voight fielded questions from the audience after the showing.

Magic Mountain co-directors Mariam Chachia and Nik Voight

In a completely different mood was the short "Four Holes," directed by Daniela Munoz Barroso. Shot on a piece of hardscrabble land outside Madrid, Spain, the film is funny and often hilarious as Barroso chronicles how an old man named Pepe has created a golf course with four holes for his own enjoyment. A one woman crew, Barroso works both behind and in front of the camera, which she constantly struggles with as it seemingly has a mind of its own. Then there's Pepe who is hard of hearing, repeatedly misunderstanding what Barroso is asking him about or telling him to do. There's a message within as Pepe reveals that playing on his little private course is his whole world and that he knows that someday the course will be destroyed to have homes built on top of it. But what most will take from the 20-minute documentary is how the young woman and elderly gentleman build such an easy camaraderie.

Director Blair Barnes talks about his film Two Sun

"Alien Island" is a film shrouded in mystery directed by Chilean filmmaker Cristobal Valenzuela Berrios. Using both dramatization and archival footage, the film documents how folks living on an isolated island off Chile's coast come to believe that there are benevolent aliens on the island, or at least overseeing it from their place in the ether. It all starts when a sailor stationed at a lighthouse uses short wave radio to communicate to other short wave listeners that he's seen a fireball plunging into the Pacific Ocean and are drawn into a tale that gets wilder and wilder as it goes on. This is a film that we don't want to give too many spoilers for as it is possibly coming to popular streaming services and it is very good entertainment. What we can tell you is that the out-of-this-world story begins in the 1980s, centers around a fellow named Ernesto De La Fuente as the supposed benefactor of alien healing and that lots of people head to the island yet today despite the fact that certain evidence points to De La Fuente having made the whole thing up. The time frame for the bulk of the film is during the era of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's reign.

Chilean filmmaker Cristobal Valenzuela Berrios and his translator answer questions about his film Alien Island

A signature event of the True/False Film Fest is Gimme Truth!, a quirky and amusing game show hosted by Brian Babylon, the comedian and radio host who's best-known for his position as a regular panelist on the NPR show "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!" Gimme Truth! is a festival favorite as it finds Columbia-area documentary filmmakers screening two-minute films, which may focus on something true or may be completely made up. A panel of three celebrity judges (other documentary directors) has a chance to ask each filmmaker one question each before they cast a vote for the piece being true or false. Hilarity ensues as Babylon reels off quip after quip as he moderates the event, peppering his speech with playful profanity and outre observation. Ultimately the audience shouts out what they believe and the panel holds up cards marked T for true or F for false before the director, on stage with Babylon, reveals whether the piece rings true or not.

Gimme Truth! host Brian Babylon kicks off the game show

Director Steven Moerschel shares a laugh with the Gimme Truth! audience and judges

With its vast selection of feature films and shorts, Gimme Truth! and music and parties providing non-stop fun there is (it's true!) something for everyone at the True/False Film Fest and it is no wonder that the event has people coming back year after year. There are various means of admission to True/False screenings and events ranging from single tickets to lots of choices for different levels of passes. Details of the 2025 True/False Film Fest will be announced here.

For ideas on other exciting things to do in Columbia go here.

Share this article

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Pin it Share on Reddit email this article