True/False, a film festival nestled in the college town Columbia, MO (an irony-free version of Austin, TX), is where you want to watch films that debuted at Sundance. Venues are well-tended and easy to get to; everybody’s cheerful; the selection of films is delicious, and the filmmakers are easy to chat up. You can also join in the parade—everyone else in the town seems to, and some of those people can wield flaming batons very well. (Think Halloween meets Mardi Gras.) And you can go to panels, and debate what's true and what's false in documentary these days.
True False also features “secret screenings,” previews of films about to debut at bigger festivals. They’re also terrific, but I can’t talk about them. Oh, well.
Among my faves of the films I saw, none of which challenged my ethical expectations for truth, were:
Waiting Room, Pete Nicks’ portrait of one day in the life of the hospital of last resort for insurance-free Oakland, CA residents. While it’s an illuminating lived argument for national health insurance, it’s also a riveting story about people coping with imperfect solutions for serious problems. Look for it at a fest near you and then on public TV.
How to Survive a Plague, David France’s fascinating retelling of organizing that changed history. With the help of a deep archive of activist video, he retells how ACT UP put HIV-AIDS research on the agenda, and how a spin-off group, TAG, changed how federal research is executed and helped to discover the current drug regimen. This is a masterful use of archival footage. The story is primarily from the activists’ viewpoint, but doesn’t slight the riotous conflicts within that movement.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Alison Klayman’s friendly portrait of the tempestuous, controversial Chinese artist who has become an icon of free speech for China-watchers. It’s well-told, engrossing, and has a larger-than-life character. It’s a film that fits perfectly into Western freedom-of-speech values; don’t expect any perspectives on the issue from the Chinese government. It’ll be in theaters this summer.