Thousands of people from across the country converge on Columbia every year for the True/False Film Fest. While much of the attention is focused on the documentaries being screened, the parties, full of good food and drinks, are also a core element of the weekend’s festivities. There’s one man in charge of making sure all of those thousands of fest goers are never left with an empty cup.
Mark Alexiou is the True/False Booze Admiral, leading a small but hard-working team of volunteers that keep the alcohol flowing all weekend long. I spent a few hours with the Admiral on Friday afternoon for a look at life behind the scenes at True/False.
I meet up with Alexiou outside Tonic on Ninth Street. It’s not even 2 p.m. and Alexiou and his team have already been working for hours. Before we can go any further, I have to ask him about his unique title.
“They bestowed it on me because I have all the booze that I transport, it being of the liquid variety, they gave me a nautical title," he said.
Alexiou is going to make a run to the team's top secret storage space, and I convince him to let me tag along. We drive for about ten minutes in a purposefully inconspicuous U-Haul van before we arrive at the secret location.
We go inside a small garage where the floor is covered with cases of wine stacked two, three or sometimes four cases high. Alexiou consults his list and uses a dolly to move more than a dozen cases from the garage to the van.
"The first year I did it, I asked [the previous Booze Admiral] what to expect," Alexiou said. "He said just plan on not sleeping, and I was like, 'Come on, man. I've been doing this for years. I can figure this out.' Sure enough, the first year I did the booze, I think I got maybe six hours of sleep from Thursday to Sunday."
Alexiou says he’s practically glued to his phone all weekend answering calls from vendors, volunteers and others. As he loads cases of wine onto his dolly, his top lieutenant Dave Lineberry calls him to make sure he's bringing back everything the team needs back at Missouri Theater.
Alexiou does one last check to make sure he’s got everything he needs and takes his last load out to the van.
"I do wish as one of the sponsors for the festival we would get like a masseuse," Alexiou says after loading more than a dozen cases of wine into the back of his van. "I try to go for the sympathy back rubs. It never works."
We get back in the van and head back towards the Missouri Theatre. Alexiou says this is his twelfth year with the festival and his fourth as the Booze Admiral. He was in charge of preparing all the passes for the fest when the previous admiral stepped down.
"They asked me if it was something I wanted to do, and I jumped on it," he said. "It's an adventure. It's a lot of work, it's a lot of time, but you kind of just sit back and watch it all play out. Feels good whatever part you're playing [in the festival]."
Alexiou spends a lot of our time together deflecting attention away from him and onto the volunteers he oversees on the Booze Team.
"I select all the people on the team, so I feel really comfortable with them and most of them know each other, so we're a pretty cohesive group," Alexiou said. "It's a really great team to be on."
We park and head back into the Missouri Theatre as other members of Team Booze bring in the cases of wine from the van. Alexiou takes a quick break to munch on some pistachios in a Tupperware container.
"Sometimes you'll go through 12-14 hours and realize you haven't eaten," he said. "Drinking water is big too. I've gotten to the point where I've felt I was dehydrated before. Just making mental notes like, 'Oh I should probably snack when I get a chance, drink a lot of water when I get a chance, and sneak in some sleep tonight hopefully."
I leave Alexiou and his team for a few hours before coming back to the Missouri Theater just ahead of the Reality Bites food and drink event at 5:30
"It's about five minutes to doors and it's a little [hectic]," he said. "We had a mad dash for two hours trying to set up all the bars, and we had another event we just finished so we rushed those guys back here and got them set up."
Alexiou makes his final rounds to all of his bars spread across three floors, delivering napkins, bar towels and making sure everyone has everything they need for the event.
"We decided last minute to nix two of the bars, but we did move one bar outside because it's pretty nice and they decided to set the band up outside so we had to break down a bar and set it up real quick," he said.
Outside on the roof, Alexiou permits himself a moment to watch the March March wrapping up on the street down below.
"This is the time when I wish I wasn't working for the Booze [Team]," he said as he looks out on the march which he no longer has time to participate in.
Alexiou snaps a few pictures and gives the march one last look before turning to head back inside to the party.
"You get those little brief like one minute intervals of enjoyment for myself, and now I've got to get back," he said.