Magazine article Filmmaker

True/False Film Fest

Magazine article Filmmaker

True/False Film Fest

Article excerpt

On the third night of this year's True/False Film Fest, the Missouri Theater was packed to nearly its 1,400-seat capacity at 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday, with people eager to see a half-hour short that had been added to the slate in the past week. This is not how festivals generally work, but I'd forgotten that a fest is not separate from its city. Feelings are still raw in Columbia after last year's student protests, directed against the University of Missouri's leadership. A series of racially charged incidents (less euphemistically, racist actions) On campus and the widespread perception of administrative indifference spurred on a group of student activists who dubbed themselves Concerned Student 1950 (after the first year a black student was admitted to Mizzou), Eleven students spearheaded protests, with a hunger strike by Jonathan Butler adding fuel to the fire. When the football team said they wouldn't play, in solidarity, until president Tim Wolfe resigned, he promptly did.

This is not the kind of incident that disappears quickly from local memory, and the students are far from done protesting. Judging by a recent, remarkably condescending open letter from Chuck Henson, the "Interim Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity" - which scolds protesters that "if you sincerely want better relationships, the time for demands, threats and arbitrary deadlines is over" - the university isn't anywhere close to getting it. Hence: a full, late-night house (with Spike Lee in attendance, no less), ready to erupt into call-and-response protest chants as five of the original 11 came onstage.

The movie Concerned Student 1950 (co-directed by Varun Bajaj and Adam Dietrich, edited by Erin Casper, all working under the supervision of Actress director/Mizzou professor Robert Greene) is just fine; I could quibble with how its deeply embedded POV is possibly counterproductive, or with some larded-on score choices, but that's not really important. It's a fine vérité overview of last year's events and ongoing fallout; if you're not up to speed, it'd be a good idea to watch it on Field of Vision, The Intercept's documentary video division. But the experience of seeing it with a crowd cheering and roaring as one was something else, an invigorating example of a movie its audience really and truly needed.

That's one kind of service a festival can provide; another is to curate the finest deep-cuts from other tests' sidebar slates, the kind of titles that are lucky if they get two trade reviews before sinking into a low-profile fest circuit run. So it was with Mehrdad Oskouei's Starless Dreams, which premiered in the Berlinale's Generation section (for the kids) and, having accumulated an Amnesty International Film Prize but little press, leaped to True/False. Oskouei's portrait of an Iranian juvenile detention facility for young women is a reminder that radical empathy and rigorous form make for natural bedfellows. In head-on interviews, he gives voice to girls who are beyond marginalized: victims of constant domestic abuse, with drug-addled fathers and unsympathetic mothers. The girls are incarcerated for possession of crack, patricide and other heavy offenses - but, to paraphrase Ganja and Hess's opening voiceover, they're not Criminals; they're victims. As one correctly understands, "Society is stronger than I am." Self-loathing is internalized, until we reach this heartbreaking exchange: "What's your dream?" "To die," "Why do you want to die so young? …

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