One of my favorite weekends of the year — the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri. This was my third year volunteering, second year doing it as a photographer. It’s madness, it’s incredible discussions about the pursuit (and manipulation) of truth, it’s reconnecting and it’s non-stop. Here are some glimpses from just the first two days…
Downtown Columbia, Missouri.
Films seen Thursday + Friday:
A group of friends living right off Tahrir Square record as much of the early uprisings last January — and make it into a film. Lots of hand-held shots, running through tear gas, passionate and magnetizing speeches from friends and strangers on the street, and an overwhelming sense for the public’s cry for change.
I always love the shorts programs at T/F. These were a selection that “explore the past and present with a unique point of view, often revealing a clear vision, but sometimes providing a revision.” Two stuck with me for completely different reasons; (1) Aaron Burr, Pt. 2, a hilarious revision of our common conception of Burr (who, if you remember, killed Alexander Hamilton in a dual outside of New York City), with a mix of modern music/footage and the reenactments and (2) Goodbye Mandima, a grown man’s look back at his leaving a small village in Zaire for France, after growing up as a missionary kid. The film examines one photograph, which sounds treacherously boring, but was written so well and paced so ingeniously that you’re listening, you’re moved and you’re asking questions about what identity really means. One line sticks out to me — as he explains his child-self’s excitement to move to a more comfortable life, he says (something similar to) — “What you don’t know… is that you’ll need to learn what it is to be white.”
I’m still trying to decide what I think about this one… the premise is that a man goes to Liberia to get credentials as a diplomat (ambassador of Liberia), then jets to Central African Republic to (1) start a match factory (2) gain access to the blood diamond market and (3) exploit how money and ‘knowing a guy’ can let a Western man do these things in a short period of time. To me, this was like a mix of Borat and The Yes Men… the film is trying to show the inner workings of a failed state government, all the while poking fun at the corruption and the lack of Western thinking in business and politics. I found myself cringing at some points, where the people he’s working with come off as complete idiots because they won’t answer his questions, have disappeared with his money, or something similar… knowing that culture and language barriers play a huge part in miscommunications like this (it once took me 20 minutes to ask one question while I was in Bangladesh for charity: water), it felt like the filmmaker was much to glib on a lot of the points and impressions this film was supposed to make. As a result, people (from the diplomats to the Pygmies he hires as a PR move) in Africa look like buffoons. And of course, there’s the general sense of “man, Africa is messed up,” when the guy spends all his time in just two countries and traipsing around with some of the richest and exploitive people in those countries. That’s never a good feeling, for me. Can’t he stick to saying the government and systems (that he ends up enabling and supporting financially in the film, may I add) are messed up (since that’s who he spent his time and money on)? That’s most definitely true. Instead, he goes beyond this to make some pretty sweeping claims about Africa as a whole. And the audience is laughing their faces off at this ridiculous character all the while.