On the final day of this year’s True/False, I got up very early to catch a screening of Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers. This seemed like a good way to start off the day, as I had heard nothing but good things about it from other True/False attendees. I can’t say I’m as sweet on the film as most everyone else I spoke to, but it is a perfectly serviceable documentary.
At the start of the film, Three Identical Strangers presents itself as a remarkable story of how triplets separated at birth. Against all odds, the boys came to learn of one another’s existence in the fall of 1980. But as their story deepens, something sinister regarding their separation beings to reveal itself.
Unfortunately for me, I am very familiar with this near 30-year story; it’s one I first learned about in a high school lecture. Unfortunately for Wardle and his team, nothing new is brought to this unusual case. This, from my perspective, reduces Three Identical Strangers to little more than sensationalism. If you have never heard this story before, I suppose this is a fine way to hear it. I, for one, will never need to see it again, making it the first real letdown in my True/False experience.
Just a few hours later, I managed to catch Sandi Tan’s Shirkers, which, much to my surprise, has overtaken Bisbee 17 in becoming my singular favorite film at True/False. It’s sort of my job to summarize the film’s plot for you, but doing so would be a major disservice to the film. All you need to know is this: in 1990s Singapore, a 19-year-old Tan sets out to make a French New Wave inspired road movie with her friends and film mentor. The film makes it to post-production, but, for reasons unclear to Tan, is never completed.
Twenty-five years later, Tan gathers both the courage and the means to return to the project and investigate the mysterious circumstances that killed her production all those years ago. Shirkers, somewhat like Bisbee 17, is a ghost story in which the past won’t stay buried. This is one sure to touch the hearts of those who seek shelter in imagined worlds like those found in Rushmore and Ghost World. As one such person, nothing could have prepared me for Shirkers. I’m so grateful to have it now, but, man, if only I had this film as a teenager!
My last screening of True/False was a crowd favorite for reasons I can understand, but not fully get behind. In Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, he chronicles the career of Fred Rogers and the philosophies that motivate his groundbreaking television show. It’s a moving portrait of a man who apparently lives up to the legend, and features some fascinating archival footage of the man in the early stages of his career. Won’t You Be My Neighbor’s big problem is that it plays it too safe. Almost all of the run time is dedicated to talking about how saintly Rogers is in interviews with his friends and family. There were plenty of moments to dive into the more troubled aspects of Rogers’ life, but for some reason Neville actively steers the film away from these paths when they rise up. The result is a documentary that’s all surfaces. Won’t You Be My Neighbor may do a good job at reminding us of Roger’s ideology, but, then again, all of that could be uncovered by just watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. | Cait Lore