Forget Cannes! Come to Columbia, Mo.

Not a documentary film festival, a celebration of non-fiction film!

I am sitting in the Courtyard by Marriott in Columbia, Missouri. trying to figure out what I can write that will get you here next year. Not to the Marriott necessarily (though their complimentary cucumber water is delightful), but to Columbia for the True/False Film Fest. It’s four days tailor-made for film lovers, festival lovers, documentary lovers and anyone who likes to have a grand old time. Mystified? Doubtful? Four days ago, I was too.

In the last 15 years, it turns out this humble little Midwestern town has created the finest doc festival in the world…though “festival” isn’t quite right…it’s more of a doc party, a true celebration of the world’s finest non-fiction film…complete with a big parade right through town. Why makes T/F so awesome? Read on!

Badass Curation: They don’t care if it’s a premiere, they don’t care if it’s by a big-name filmmaker, hell they don’t even care if it’s really a doc! If a film’s thought-provoking, heart-breaking, boundary-jumping or just plain fun, they’re going to show it here – no film business BS, no competition or awards…it’s just all about seeing movies, including top-secret screenings of films that will premiere at other festivals! Well it’s not all about the movies, because there’s awesome live music before every screening…don’t forget to toss in a few bucks when they pass the hat!

The Missouri Theater

A Very Cool Place: The festival is located in beautiful downtown Columbia, which means everything’s within a five-minute walk and everyone and everything seems to be part of the action. The venues are amazing, from the gorgeous Missouri Theater (which opened in 1928 with Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.) to the tiny, aptly-named Ragtag – the place where T/F all started. There’s also the big converted music hall (the bar in back is always open) and the ballroom of the gorgeous Tiger Hotel, as well as two temporary theaters in local churches. Lodging’s pretty cheap and so are the passes!

Need info? Ask a “Queen” like Abbie. They’re around every venue…and they’re easy to spot!

Amazing Audiences: This is the home of the University of Missouri, and if you didn’t know that you’ll get it about 10 minutes after you arrive…every single person (and a few dogs) seems to be wearing a Mizzou logo item. And forgive me for sounding like the west coast liberal elite that I am, but they just don’t seem like the target audience for docs, especially some of the out there stuff they program at T/F. And yet, the conservative-looking people here have embraced documentaries in a way that’s hard to imagine. They regularly fill the 1,200-seat Missouri and U of M’s 1,700 Jesse Hall, completely freaking out filmmakers in the best possible way, sticking around for the Q&A’s en masse and asking the best questions I’ve ever heard.

So Much Fun: The energy at T/F is like a tailgate party before a big Mizzou football game (or so I imagine). There’s a carnival atmosphere and it’s quite the family affair…there are parties, of course, some of which take place in random houses near downtown. The big volunteer party at the end of the fest inhabits an art space that reportedly started out as the town’s crematorium. And late at night, the bars on Broadway are filled with college kids who spill out onto the street seemingly impervious to the cold. The street between two of the main venues is blocked off and filled with fantastic large format art pieces. There’s just a ton to see and do!

Isn’t there anything bad about True/False? Yes. The Mexican food in Columbia made me very sad, but I knew that going in so that’s MY bad.

For more information, check out truefalse.org. And tell ’em Matt sent you.