'Bully,' a film that recently received an R rating from the MPAA to the chagrin of its distributor, the Weinstein Company, will screen at the 2012 True/False Film Fest
'Bully,' a film that recently received an R rating from the MPAA to the chagrin of its distributor, the Weinstein Company, will screen at the 2012 True/False Film Fest

The True/False documentary festival, which takes place in Columbia, Missouri, kicks off this Thursday, and it’s looking to be a great one.

There’s a stellar list of films, including Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, The Queen of Versailles, Detropia, The Island President and Comic Con IV: A Fan’s Hope. To top it off, there are two Weinstein Company documentaries that are generating a ton of buzz. There’s the True Life Fund screening of Bully, which is the one doc to get a major grant from the festival — and it’s in the thick of an MPAA maelstrom concerning its rated R rating. If the film, which is a personal look at the bullying epidemic in the United States, gets an R, then schools won’t be allowed to show it, which is exactly where this film needs to be seen.

And then there’s also a screening of Undefeated, which just pulled off an impressive win at the Oscars for Best Documentary Feature.  It will be the featured film kicking off the festival.

I am particularly enthusiastic about True/False this year, because I’ve been invited to speak at the University of Missouri’s Based on a True Story conference that immediately precedes the festival. And I’ll be speaking about one of my favorite subjects: documentaries as a form of entertainment. I plan to talk about how audience taste for documentaries has changed exponentially over the past 10 years, and I’ll be breaking down three films from three different genres, which I hope will help elucidate what’s best about documentaries that entertain audiences.

The festival has a reputation for being laid back and supremely enjoyable while also delivering on the goods with a great lineup. (It’s worth mentioning that 10,000 tickets to films will go on sale on March 1, so check out the site and jump in the Winnebago and go!)

View 12 Small-Town Festivals for 2012 »

You may have noticed that there’s a surprising number of Sundance films, close to a quarter of the 40 or so documentaries being shown. These guys are clearly not trying to be there first or break new ground. There is also only one award given to a filmmaker, before the fest kicks off. This year, it goes to Russian director Victor Kossakovsky.

True/False Film Fest has earned kudos from documentary fans and documentarians alike.
Photo via truefalse.org

The primacy is on getting doc lovers together to see great docs and have a good time. Can’t argue with that. There’s a load of live music, and I’ve heard of unusual happenings like the Boone Dawdle, a bike ride to a remote location where dinner and a doc screening were served. I don’t think there’s the same thing happening this year, but I won’t be surprised by similar quirky fare. (There is indeed a marathon that will be judged partly on participants’ “craziness.”)

I look forward to seeing the films mentioned above, but here are the three I’m most excited to see:

The Ambassador
I heard good things about director Mads Brügger’s previous comedy, Red Chapel, in which he makes his way into North Korea. Here, he goes to Africa, passing himself off as a diplomat. The potential for offense seems infinite here, and I want to see where Brügger draws the line. Is this even a documentary? Was Borat? I’d say no to the latter, and I don’t know to the former. I’ll let you know for sure after I’ve seen it.

Searching for Sugar Man
I just wrote an article in The New York Times last Sunday about the documentary Last Days Here, which opens this Friday in New York City, and is about Bobby Liebling, the drug addict and lead singer of Pentagram. Sugar Man follows its lead (in fact, Last Days Here played at True/False’s Boone Dawdle in 2011) by trying to trace the whereabouts of singer-songwriter Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, who, like Liebling, used to rock out in the 70s. I’m a fan of this particular rock doc niche, and I want to see how Sugar Man plays it.

View Doc Soup Man’s 11 Favorite Rockumentaries »


¡Vivan las Antipodas!
I know nothing of honored director Victor Kossakovsky, but fest organizers  are saying he’s one to watch, and I love the concept of this film: going to four sets of the Earth’s antipodes — spots on opposite sides of the globe — and seeing how life plays out at each. Kossakovsky has a reputation for strong cinematography, so I look forward to the trip.

An indication that this is a festival overflowing with good fare, I’ll list just one of the films that I’m going to miss because of scheduling conflicts and am very upset about: The Imposter. This film follows the disappearance of a 13-year-old boy in Texas who ends up “found” in Spain years later.  But things aren’t what they seem, least of all the boy. Is this a real-life version of The Return of Martin Guerre? I’m not sure. But I’m going to be tossing and turning about it throughout the festival. Luckily, I’ve got a POV emissary who will be seeing it, and can give me the lowdown.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen