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Greater than fiction

Mainers find ideas and connections at a Missouri film festival
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  March 4, 2009

090306_Toughcats_Main
BRINGING THE HOOTENANNY The Toughcats. 

The True/False Film Festival, which just wrapped up its sixth year in Columbia, Missouri, presents an encouraging object lesson in how to establish a destination film festival in an unlikely location. The college town of 80,000 has a compact downtown and a progressive, arts-friendly aesthetic. There's local food and art at nearly every turn, your obligatory host of street crazies ("I was married to a porn star. Ever heard of...?"), a flourishing farmers' market, lots of good music, and plenty of interesting venues, both ramshackle and majestic. In short, it's a lot like Portland. I spent the past weekend there with one Maine band, two local film programmers, and four local filmmakers. We simultaneously got Maine more intertwined with the Missouri event, and returned with some ideas of how to enhance our local arts scene here at home.

True/False's unique vision — the young founders, Davis Wilson and Paul Sturtz, pride themselves on an egalitarian treatment of documentary films, filmmakers, musicians, and audiences, and allow for constant mingling between the groups — and its perfect execution allowed my companions to make some promising inroads for future Maine events. Attending the festival is uniquely inspiring: the impact of these events snowball throughout the course of the weekend, leaving you with an expansive view of the creativity and potential of (seriously) all mankind. By day two, I scarcely went a half hour with laughing, crying, or hugging someone.

SPACE Gallery Films Director Jon Courtney found himself on a plane with one of the subjects of The Yes Men Fix the World (see sidebar for film descriptions), who was interested in attending a Portland screening after learning the venue was a non-profit. Ben Fowlie, founder of the Camden International Film Festival (which enters its fifth year in September; shockingly, he's only 28) caught up with the prodigiously talented young director Eric Daniel Metzger — whose Life. Support. Music. screened in Camden last year — looking to get him to return to Maine this year to introduce his exceptional new film, Reporter. It's a safe bet that many of the (uniformly strong) films we saw at True/False will hit SPACE, CIFF, and area arthouses; SPACE Gallery alone screened at least seven films from T/F 2007, including the semi-legendary Air Guitar Nation, which was followed by an air guitar contest that got Portland's McNallica to a strong finish at the US Air Guitar Championships (she repeated the feat last year). 

Fowlie, who was attending True/False for the first time this year, was ostensibly in Columbia in support of "Secret Screening Silver," the code name for a Maine-based documentary he's helping to promote. (Coverage of the film — one of T/F's most rewarding crowd-pleasers — is embargoed until its official premiere at South By Southwest later this month; we'll cover its Maine debut shortly thereafter.)

Fowlie and Courtney are in early talks about somehow expanding his CIFF endeavor into Portland, and Fowlie's incubating some solid ideas of how to accomplish it. While it's successful and growing by the year, CIFF's ambitions are somewhat stifled by a small population (Camden has 5000 people) and the highish median age of its attendees and financial backers — Fowlie had one company threaten to revoke sponsorship if he were to screen Domestic Violence, an acclaimed documentary by medium legend Frederick Wiseman, on the basis of its topic alone.

Fowlie's ambitions were bolstered by the True/False experience. "It seemed as if everyone in Columbia knew this was their one opportunity and chance to show the world that they love their town, they love their arts, and they love their True/False ... I think Portland needs an event that will promote its image to the rest of the world. It's the right size in the right location and has enough charm to really become a destination festival for industry reps and filmmakers." Early ideas include a more modest, weekend-long festival with visiting filmmakers and local bands.

Courtney, assuming "someone cut us a check," is intrigued as well, but for now plans to continue booking important documentaries in (whenever possible) interesting ways at SPACE. (One T/F screening, Food, Inc., featuring Michael Pollan, will screen at this year's "Food + Farm" event at SPACE in May.) Considering this year's True/False, he said, "Not only do I love that little town and the sense of pride that comes oozing out of its pores (I mean 500 volunteers?! that's incomprehensible) but the sense of care and respect that is leveled upon the films, the filmmakers, the musicians, the subjects, and the audiences. I was reflecting on the films and I realize that 'fix the world (or at least give it a shot in your little corner of it)' was the general thread running through the weekend and I appreciate having that sort of curatorial ideal at work."

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  Topics: Features , Chris Gray, documentary, Entertainment,  More more >
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