It’s that time of year when Columbia, Missouri becomes the nonfiction film capital of the country.
There’s an exciting lineup of films to see, secret screenings to discover, and a packed schedule of festive events celebrating film, music, art and community (not to mention the famous March March costume parade taking place tomorrow).
The following Cinereach supported films are part of the True/False action, and we are especially excited for audiences to experience the world premiere of Brimstone & Glory, which will be exploding onto the big screen for the first time.
All the eloquent and enticing synopses for these films, with their careful attention to image, story, style, and musical landscape, were written by the astute True/False programmers.
Directed by Viktor Jakovleski
Produced by Dan Janvey, Elizabeth Lodge Stepp, Kellen Quinn, Affonso Gonçalves, Benh Zeitlin, Casey Coleman, Antonio ‘Tonitzin’ Gómez, Viktor Jakovleski, Erdem Karahan
Tultepec, Mexico is known for just one thing: fireworks. The city manufactures more than half of all fireworks made in Mexico, a good percentage of which will be set off at the small town’s annual festival for San Juan de Dios. With that background, you can let statistics fall by the wayside and fully immerse yourself in this spectacular, thunderous film, a true marvel of nonfiction cinema. Employing every trick in the cinematographer’s handbook (and making up a few new ones), Jakovleski keeps his camera in the midst of the action as explosions flower around him and smoke fills the scene. Paired with a symphonic score by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Brimstone & Glory is an adrenaline-fueled kaleidoscopic thrill ride for the ages.
Directed by Kitty Green
Produced by Kitty Green, Scott Macaulay and James Schamus
The story of this beauty pageant princess’ murder holds a lurid place in American popular culture — a recurring standby at the supermarket checkout lane. But unlike those who’ve come before her, smelling dollars in the exploitation of true crime and family loss, Kitty Green is up to something grander. Casting JonBenet may share a starting point with those other tawdry tales, but its technicolor journey is far more ambitious — an effort to engage with the very fabric of American culture. And like a series of Russian nesting dolls, Green’s story unfolds on and off the set of a fictional feature film (or maybe it’s a fictional fictional feature film?). The end product, as sumptuous as anything by David Fincher, is also as emotionally and intellectually satisfying as any film in recent memory.
Directed and produced by Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini
Meet Dina. She gets her nails done, she rides the bus, and, once again, she has fallen in love. Despite a “smorgasbord of issues” (her mom’s words), Dina shines, engaged with both the world and her soon-to-be second husband, Scott. The couple’s idiosyncrasies are captured by an empathetic camera as she prepares for her wedding. Yet something lurks in Dina’s heart: a frightening past that she can’t shake. The carefully quirky visuals of an indie rom-com pair with Michael Cera’s bubbly pop-tastic soundtrack to capture the plastic surfaces of a distinctly American landscape. But the heart of the film is a truly unique love story, and Dina herself is a contagious smile, warming her TV-lit bedroom.
Directed by Raoul Peck
Produced by Rémi Grellety, Raoul Peck and Hébert Peck
A gay black man exiled to France at an early age, James Baldwin became the greatest American essayist of the 20th century. Director Raoul Peck celebrates Baldwin’s rich legacy by immersing us in his impactful, soaring words (voiced here by Samuel L. Jackson). Framed as a letter to a publisher, pitching his (never-completed) book about fallen leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, the writer’s eloquent meditations on race and class remain painfully, powerfully relevant in this era of Black Lives Matter. Baldwin also proves to be a scholar of cinema, unpacking the petty prejudices that fueled the Dream Machine. To see Baldwin on The Dick Cavett Show is to confront the inability of white America to come to terms with its brutal history and troubled present. This Oscar-nominated film is a revelatory prophesy, underscoring the unfulfilled promise of our American Dream.
Directed by Alma Har’el
Produced by Alma Har’el, Chris Leggett, Rafael Marmor and Rhea Scott
Three bewitching fables of young lovers weave together a poignant exploration of the challenges and persistence of love. Director Alma Har’el is known for her genre-bending, visionary storytelling, including her debut feature Bombay Beach and music videos for Sigur Rós. Here, she mixes tender observational scenes with artful, lush psychodramas, spinning them all together with an ethereal score by Flying Lotus. Blake, a tender-hearted stripper in Alaska, falls for a king of the nerds. Will, a Hawaiian surfer who married young, transforms himself in the face of parenthood. And Victory, a New York City gospel singer, struggles to hold her family together. Using her fluid camera and uncanny ability to construct intimate moments, Har’el both celebrates the power of love and reveals its sometimes harsh reality.
Directed by Jonathan Olshefski
Produced by Sabrina Schmidt Gordon
Epic in scope but finely etched in its details, Quest introduces an American family unique in cinema history. First-time director Jonathan Olshefski spent a decade following Christopher “Quest” Rainey and Christine’a, aka “Ma Quest,” who run a basement recording studio in their tight-knit North Philadelphia neighborhood. Olshefski originally set out to capture this unusual community project but was present as the Raineys’ endearing daughter, PJ, gradually came of age. Breathtakingly intimate, tenderly assembled, and rich with the drama of life, Quest sets a new bar for the labor-of-love film. Framed by presidential elections, it also serves as a bittersweet elegy for the Obama era in all its frustrated promise.
Directed and produced by Yance Ford
Produced by Joslyn Barnes
The best documentary mysteries are rarely about the “who” and more often about the “why.” Strong Island, the debut film from former T/F swami Yance Ford, mines his intense personal history of growing up on Long Island in the ’80s, with a focus on the murder of his brother and the shockwaves it sent through their entire family. A detailed and somber story of race and racism, Strong Island also explores the delicacy of family webs and how even the strongest of strands can be torn. Ford’s filmmaking is precise and artful, pairing minimalist but exquisite camerawork with one of the most effective scores of the year (by Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir and Scottish composer Craig Sutherland). Strong Island pulls emotions to the surface from deep within, and their emergence is all the most radical and unforgettable for it.
Sneak preview screening, co-presented by San Francisco International Film Festival
Directed by Jeff Unay
Produced by Jeff Unay and James Orara
Every time he steps into the ring, Joe Carman endangers his marriage, risks losing custody of his kids, and puts his mental and physical health on the line. Still, the 40-year-old pipefitter can’t stop himself. Joe works all day, trains every night until he collapses, cares for his four adoring daughters (from two marriages), and, after his ailing wife goes to sleep, sneaks away to fight in mixed martial arts matches. Why does Joe do it? Even he doesn’t quite understand. Shot over three years, Unay’s gritty drama starts along a Rocky-like arc before veering into Grapes of Wrath territory, a contemporary tale of working-class desperation and determination. Unay strips any gloss from professional fighting — the battles between these smalltime warriors are brutal, not glamorous — as he introduces us to a gentle, wounded soul who searches for validation, and meaning, in no-frills gyms.
Directed and produced by Pete Nicks
Produced by Linda Davis and Lawrence Lerew
True/False vet Pete Nicks embedded himself in the Oakland Police Department the year its world turned upside down. The Force, the second in a planned trilogy that began with the emergency room drama The Waiting Room, finds the OPD 13 years into a federally mandated reform program. Police chief Sean Whent seemingly has a firm handle on how to turn it around. Nicks follows the well-meaning chief, the department’s beleaguered communications director, and a mayor who races to corral runaway events. So much happens in the gut-punching final act that it could have easily spilled into a miniseries. Beautifully shot and recorded, with extraordinarily expressive editing, The Force is comfortable playing in murky territory and evoking questions left and right. The biggest one being — can any institution be truly reformed?
Directed and produced by Sabaah Folayan, co-directed by Damon Davis
Produced by Jennifer MacArthur, Flannery Miller, and Chris Renteria
In 2014, protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, filled the streets after the shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson. While the national news focused on footage of teens looting a QuikTrip, a more dramatic and intense story was unfolding: a community coming to terms with years of grief and rage. Folayan and Davis’s clear-eyed, impassioned, and forceful documentary drops us into a community broken by the stark realities of racism and police brutality. But more than a mere exposé, Whose Streets? suggests a way forward, celebrating the emergence of a strong collective of inspiring, tireless community activists including David, a father who monitors police with his video camera, and Brittany, a registered nurse who combines the patience of Gandhi with the fierceness of Malcolm X. With nothing to gain except justice, these young civil rights leaders risk their bodies to fight, with galvanizing success, for equal access to the American Dream. This is what heroism looks like.