A Journalist's Preview of True/False 2015
This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year’s True/False Fest. Find the rest of them here or download the podcast on iTunes.
Since 2004 the annual True False Film Fest has brought world-class documentary films and their creators to Columbia, and the 2015 festival promises to bring more than fifty films to venues across the city. Stacey Woelfel, Director of the Jonathan B. Murray Center for Documentary Journalism, and an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, came in to give us a journalist's preview of True/False 2015.
Cartel Land - Matthew Heineman
Cartel Land is a film that takes a broad perspective on violence along the southern border, and those outside of the government attempting to combat it.
"On this side of the border we meet a man living in Arizona right near the border that runs a vigilante unit... you think okay, these are sort of racists ... and that's part of it, but there's something more there in this effort that we are going to take the law into our own hands because we don't think our government is capable or willing to do that. And that matches exactly what we see down in Central Mexico, and so the community lead by a physician starts a whole vigilante army of its own to stop the drug cartels.
Matthew Heineman, the director who did most of the camera work, is in the middle of more than one gunfight in the street, here’s in a torture room, he’s in a car during an interrogation, and we are so close to what is real action, bullets are really flying and we are right there in the middle of it."
Western - Bill & Turner Ross
Western serves more as a conceptual film, capturing a very different slice of life between the Texas town of Eagle Pass, and Piedras Negras, Mexico.
"As much as Cartel Land is about action and shootouts and tension and danger, this one is a very quiet film. We meet a very charismatic mayor on the American side who has such great relations in Mexico, his name is Chad Foster, he looks like the typical Texas mayor, and has the best Spanish you’ve ever heard. You see him speaking English, you see him speaking Spanish, and you’re shocked by the amount of effort he puts into it... I’m partial personally to the slice-of-life films that capture some history that might not be about the most important people or the most important events.... The Ross Brothers are really known for these films that look at the American existence in places that might be different from New York or California or places people will see these films. And so I think it captures the early 21st century very well in terms of what it’s like to live with this border tension at all times."
Maidan - Sergei Loznitsa
Maidan follows the transformation of protest to civil war in Ukraine through three months of filming done in Independence Square.
"I’ll say right off the bat it won’t be for everybody’s taste. It is a film made of long wide shots of the conflict in Ukraine, centered around the central square in Kiev. We see the tensions rise and fall and rise again and we are very much at times in the film right in the middle of a violent conflict."
Tales of the Grim Sleeper - Nick Broomfield
Tales of the Grim Sleeper tells the story of a series of murders over 25 years in a South-Central LA community. It’s a story of crime, urban neglect, and a community potentially abandoned by its police.
"It’s a film that will make people angry, I hope it makes people angry as they watch it. Broomfiled, he’s this almost clueless Brit in Los Angeles, purposefully. So here he is in his rented Mercedes, driving around south-central LA ... A prostitute named Pam introduces the director and us to all these people who live in this area and are affected by it, and their dissatisfaction with the way the police have ignored this problem. I won’t give this part away, but there’s a scene in there where if you’re not incredibly angry by the time you get out of that part there’s something wrong with you... The point of the film is to say how did this go on so long, and who dropped the ball. The police? The city? Everyone."
(T)Error - Lyric Cabral & David Sutcliffe
(T)Error follows a 63-year-old Black revolutionary turned informant for the FBI.
"The film really looks at the FBI’s approach to using confidential informants to try and find terrorists in the United States. And the central confidential informant was almost found by accident by the filmmakers, he was a neighbor of one of the co-directors... He let slip that he was a confidential informant for the FBI, and because of an existing relationship and trust built over time, they were able to get incredible access to what he was doing as an informant... You haven’t seen anything like this in terms of knowing the inside workings of what the government is doing on our behalf."
Those Who Feel the Fire Burning - Morgan Knibbe
"It is a story about the plight of immigrants in Europe, it has a very gripping opening, and a big surprise. And from that surprise it takes us through these scenes in Europe in a way I can’t say I’ve seen done in a documentary before. And we’ll be just that mysterious because part of the fun of that film is figuring out what’s going on."