Film Reviews
"Girls State".  Photo courtesy of Apple +

The annual True/False Film Festival, always the first weekend in March, in Columbia, Missouri, offered its always impressive, international documentaries championing (per the T/F mission) “the challenge of interpreting reality on screen with playfulness, sensitivity, discipline, and daring imagination.” This year’s thirty-three feature and twenty-six short films, a global treasure trove, address important issues in analytical, accessible, and engaging ways.

Of the fifteen films I saw, a significant theme emerged despite the range of topics and countries. The importance of community took center stage for those individuals organically connected and those bonding in shared struggles. Examples include directors Stephen Maing and Brett Story’s “Union” chronicling the difficult organizing efforts, led by a determined Chris Smalls, at the Staten Island Amazon fulfillment center. Against astronomical odds, the workers join forces in their endeavor.

Similarly, in directors Jennifer Wickham, Brenda Michell, and Michael Toledano’s “Yintah” tenacious Indigenous Wet’suwet’en activists face off against Canadian attempts to construct an oil and gas pipeline across their native land. Over a decade, led by Howilhkat Freda Huson and Sleydo’ Molly Wickham, tribal groups repeatedly confront corporate, government, and court challenges. A more celebratory community emerges in Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’ “Girls State” as hundreds of Missouri teenagers share a week on Lindenwood University’s campus. There they compete for election to serve on the group’s Supreme Court, as Governor, Attorney General, and more, with campaigns launched and nerves on edge.

Farther afield, Arun Bhattarai and Dorottya Zurbó’s “Agent of Happiness” travels across Bhutan with two men asking urban and rural citizens to evaluate their emotional satisfaction in this country that measures gross national happiness as opposed to gross national product. Equally unusual, Norwegian Benjamin Ree’s “Ibelin” uncovers an unexpected gaming community as it explores the hidden life of Mats Steen. Born with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, confined to a wheelchair, Mats enjoyed a vivacious presence online in a life unknown by his family. Another marginal group is profiled in Lana Wilson’s “Look into My Eyes” which interviews and records a handful of New York City psychics interacting with clients. The fascinating study pulls back the curtain in an informative and entertaining fashion.

Heartwarming and heartbreaking, Angela Patton and Natalie Rae’s “Daughters” follows four young girls for eight years, beginning with their first encounter with their imprisoned fathers at a Date with Dad event. Previously prevented from enjoying any in-person visits, these interactions carry overwhelming impact. Other documentaries travel to Lebanon, Madagascar, Australia, and the West Bank with strong presentations. There’s so much more. As these documentaries screen or stream over the next few months, I’ll revisit and expand my reviews.

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