The People Behind the Festival

Ja'Licia Gainer

You usually hear about the film festival that happens around the early spring, once a year, known as True/False. You hear about people going to it, others opinions on the experience, see pictures of the festival, but you don’t hear about how the festival came to be, or who created the festival.

“20 years ago, Paul[Sturtz] and I met. We came from different places, but we were in the time of diy; a do it yourself era where if you want something you have to get it by hard work. In college there was Paul, a mutual friend, who came to me and was like ‘ hey you wanna create a film?’ ”, said David Wilson, co- conspirator of True/False. “ The Year of Documentary ” is what some have called this time in 2003 when documentaries had a breakthrough on the big screen. Seeing this, Paul and David wanted to celebrate this era of non fiction films, but they did not know that the journey to make a film would take five years.


One of the reasons why True/False took a while was the fact that Columbia was not what it is now, there was not much diversity, “ It felt like a totally different place in Columbia. It wasn’t culturally active.” said Paul. With that, and the goal they wanted to achieve, they realise they both had to work hard as a team or drop the idea.


They got to work by raising money, “ we didn’t have to spend much money; we did bake sales.” Paul laughed. And using resources surrounding them on campus, “We ‘borrowed’ projectors from the Mizzou campus and showed films at the Blue Note for about three weeks, raising money to buy the projectors we were trying to buy. After three weeks someone told someone at Mizzou about us ‘ borrowing’ projectors and we got caught. Getting stuff done is the most important part in my eye.” said David.


Another challenge they faced was not being tech savvy, “ I remember you [Paul] on the phone with a new york distributor for two hours asking about “ how did this work[the projectors]?” Said David. Paul adds to David’s statement about how the community started to see what they were doing and wanted to lend a helping hand, “ You don’t have to be an expert on what you wanna do. It’s like if you are pushing a boulder down a hill-” “ You mean up a hill?” Paul laughed. “ Yeah up a hill, your going to see other people join in. It was great to see people helping with doing something you want to do.”


After 5 years of hosting their film event at The Blue Note and Ragtag selling out the first year of 1,200 attended, it gradually expanded each year all the way to 2015 of having 45,000 attendants. Hosting the event at Stephens College and then the Missouri Theater and now at Jesse Hall, it brought in more filmmakers, and by the help of volunteers growing each year, they got to see their idea come to life. But one of their initial goals was to have the youth included in it, “ We wanted to have high schoolers apart of it, and when Camp True/False coordinators became involved, we finally got that” said Paul. On T/F DIY day, Columbia’s 10th grade students go to see a film, and high schools students in general have the opportunity to become involved in the festival by being a volunteer or apply to be in Camp True/False.


Besides them showing documentaries submitted by filmmakers, they created a True Life Fund to raise money for subjects of a film who are going through serious issues in their lives. Starting in 2007, the fund raised over $8,500 for subjects of an documentary of an African Orphanage. In 2012, it raised $30,000 for five families in a documentary called Bully by Lee Hirsch, and 2013 raised around $37,000 for two organizations, RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues) and the Milton Margai School for Blind. In 2014, the fund raised $23,000 for Private Violence subjects, a film about domestic violence. And in 2015 the fund raised $35,000 for the subject in a film The Look of Silence Adi Rukun to open a brick and mortar business in his new community in Indonesia.


When picking films to be shown on the screen, they often look for films that are made with hard work and detail, but also different, “ we often want a unique print” Paul said. “ When I see the beginning [of a submitted film] where there’s a tight shot, focusing, I can tell that the director truly cares about this film” said David.


But they don’t pick films that are made to only attempt to change a problem, “ I don’t like seeing films that are there specifically to make that change. There’s other more effective ways of organizing an action. Documentaries are really good at creating empathy. For example, there was this pastor [in Columbia] who was against abortions and he saw a film at True/False about three U.S. doctors who still perform late term abortions. And after he watched the film, he didn’t change his mind, but he respected them.” said David. “ You hope that they can change people over time, but it’s not on the for ground.” said Paul. “ Life is messy, and showing that is great and inspires me” said David.  


There’s been a little controversy with the idea of True/False ever expanding on different genres from documentaries since this year’s films Rider and American Animals are reenactments with the real people speaking in, “ The film this year like Rider and American Animals outside of True/False would be considered fiction films. There are other fantastic festivals that show different genres like horror films. I love documentaries as apart of true false. It brings conversations that we don’t have a lot.” said David. “ Whenever I go see a regular film, most of them are pretty tryte.” said Paul.


But this has been made up for by the different themes, “ We’re always going to have documentaries, so we have to freshen it up every year. We have fun with it. ” said Paul. Notably in 2014, the theme was Magic/Realism, showcasing nonfiction filmmakers magical connection to the stage, and that year blossomed with musicians performing. And 2015’s theme The Long Now focused on time and what endures and to have all the artists put their own interpretation on it.


In the past they ( particularly David) made films for True/False, “ but I decided I won’t make any more for True/False. I felt like I’ve taken someone else’s slot.” said David.


With a long friendship between them and now a long partnership, there’s obviously ups and downs, but they make it work by honesty, trust, and communication. When I asked them what’s the hardest part working as partners and friends, both of them turned to look at eachother and began laughing, then David became spoke, “ We argue less now, but we argue alot. Arguing isn’t the hardest part. Never [was] one of those arguments been personal. Belief and trust is for the festival, never personal glory.” Paul came in to say “It’s all about the greater goal. I’m really sensitive towards grabbing of attention. In the movie business, it’s definitely ‘look at me’ and True/False is not that.”


People in Columbia have suggested them to be social activists with making True/False because it’s a platform to show different problems around the world in a form of a film, but they differ, “ I would hope to say i’m a social justice activist, but my role in True False is not that. It’s not like were going to stand here and pat ourselves on the back.” said David. “For me, I see our role in community for good things as social justice.” said Paul.


Paul and David’s once idea has grown to a beautiful festival event that brings people together. And to get to hear their story, along with their motivation, makes True/False even more meaningful.