True/False Film Festival Explores Art And Artifice

Mar 5, 2012

The power of art and the fallibility of artifice met head on at this weekend's 9th annual True/False documentary film festival in Columbia, Missouri.

Drawing thousands of documentary fans from both coasts and across the region, the festival once again featured films so new they may have had only a couple screenings at January's Sundance Film Festival and will have audiences buzzing when they're released later this year.

The documentary is the perfect format for films about controversial artists because it allows them to explain their own work. Both Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present and Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry delved into the artists' biographies and catalogs in a way that humanized and made accessible their most challenging work. The former documented Abramovic's Museum of Modern Art show in 2010 where she sat in the lobby from opening to closing for three months while inviting visitors to sit across from her and meet her gaze, proving that performance art can be extraordinarily moving. The latter followed Ai Wei Wei's bad boy antagonism toward the Chinese government up to the point he was held in captivity for more than eighty days.

The act of striking poses took various zig-zags in films like The Queen of Versailles, Lauren Greenfield's peek behind the curtain of David Siegel, a time-share resort magnate, and his physically cartoonish but warm-hearted wife, Jacquie (pictured), as they set out to build what would have been the largest single family home in the United States - had the economy not collapsed on their dreams. Greenfield's obvious goodwill toward her subjects is so sure that your urge to laugh at their bombastic behavior gets caught in your throat.

In the chilling The Imposter, director Bart Layton pays homage to The Thin Blue Line filmmaker Errol Morris in employing actors to recreate some of the details of a story so bizarre a fiction editor would turn it down as impossible. When a 13-year-old boy goes missing in San Antonio, Texas, his family holds onto the hope of his return - a kind of desperate wishful thinking that a sociopathic 23-year-old in Spain cruelly plays on four years later by posing as the missing boy. He  so expertly fools the FBI, The Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the boy's own family that he goes to Texas posing as the boy, and Layton's movie is a jaw-dropping chronicle of how the truth reveals itself.

The movie that will inevitably get the widest release is Bully, which The Weinstein Company will be distributing. While some found tears rolling down their cheeks by this look into the painful daily existence of bullied kids and their frustrated parents, others weren't so convinced that the movie offered anything substantive toward addressing a problem much more complex than this film understands. And the fact that  the debate about the film's merits took place in various Columbia noodle shops, coffeehouses, and bars underscores why True/False is such an invigorating event.