True/False 2018: Second Report

Today’s first screening was a tough call for me. Both Westwood and Primas are high priority for me, but I went with Primas due to it being the recipient of the True Life Fund. This scholarship, as I understand it, is co-funded between donations from the True/False attendees and The Crossing church. At the screening, festival co-founder David Wilson explained the fund as a way of closing ‘the feedback loop’ by allowing audiences to give back to these subjects and storytellers.

Primas is the story of two cousins bounded not only through sexual trauma, but their desire to grow past their histories. Directed by their aunt, Laura Bari, Primas is an ode to the transformative experience the creative process affords. True to the film’s central theme, it is not just Bari’s project but also the young cousins. Both girls, Rocío and Aldana, utilize different styles of art—drawing, performative dance, poetry—as a form of therapy and celebration of their strength. It’s a very moving experience to watch these girls take control of their own narratives, and a film I’d strongly recommend to anyone who feels comfortable with the darker subject matter.

After Primas, I killed time bombing around Columbia until the queues for Bisbee 17 opened up. This is perhaps the film I was most excited for going into the festival.  It has gotten great write-ups at Sundance. I am a fan of Robert Greene’s previous film Kate Plays Christine, and I’m highly interested in forgotten American labor histories.

In the summer of 1917, a major mining corporation orchestrated the illegal arrests of over 1,300 striking mine workers and their supporters. They forced their captives, whom were majorly immigrant workers, into cattle cars, starved them for 16-hours and then forcibly deported them. Although President Woodrow Wilson stated that the arrests and deportation were clearly illegal, no one involved ever received any sort of charge for their crime.

Greene’s film charts his filmmaking team’s arrival in Bisbee, Arizona on the heels of the Bisbee Deportation’s centennial. Cut into six chapters, his film utilizes several narrative techniques to investigate truth and historical memory from several different angels. His film does educate you about the historical events, but that’s not the primary draw here. Greene has the Bisbee people reenact the events leading up to and including the deportation. Many of the people are portraying someone in their family tree.

There has been much talk about how this is an American take on The Act of Killing, and, yes, there are elements of that. However, I think Greene does something far more radical than what that suggests. Shot during the year Trump was elected, Greene uses the films to “write” about the present through the past. In this way, his documentary works like one of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1970s melodramas. Bisbee 17 is an American ghost story of sorts, one in which the past haunts.

When I left the theater, I heard someone say that it was the best films they had ever seen at a True/False festival. It’s certainly one of the finest new films I’ve seen in years.

I was very worried about not being able to see Black Mother, so I decided to get over to the Rhynsburger Theatre as early as I could. Doing so paid off, as I both managed to get in and secure a very nice spot at the screening. Going into the film, I did not know as much as I did about Bisbee 17, but I kept hearing its name crop up in Columbia’s sidewalk discussions.

Sounding much like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, director Khalik Allah instructed the crowd to drift off into sleep if they felt like it. He explained that his film was more like a prayer, and encouraged us to dream through its frames. I knew then and there that I would like it.

Made with footage spanning 15 years, Black Mother is a deeply personal gaze into Jamaica through its people and places. The way the film moves through portraits of strangers, Allah’s family, friends, and natural landscapes creates an effortless rhythm. Allah sets these images to audio recordings of these people set slightly out of synch, to give us room to dream, he explains.

I’m not really sure how Black Mother went over with the crowd, but I was, for a second time today, completely besotted with it. I found it to be utterly absorbing, with a sense of poeticism what would make Terence Davies proud. I’ll have to get my hands on his other works the second I get back to Saint Louis.

Today, I saw one very strong film, and two completely indelible ones.  I have yet to see a poor film at True/False. Hell, I haven’t even seen a middling one! I can’t possibly imagine the festival maintaining this momentum for the rest of the weekend. We’ll have to see what tomorrow brings. | Cait Lore



One comment

  1. With “Bisbee ’17,” however, I felt engaged with the work like I hadn’t before. Though it arguably represents Greene’s most conventional film to date, with a clear narrative through line complete with rising action and climax, its classical narrative wonderfully grounds Greene’s pet interests in a tangible historical moment. Many critics have pointed out the contemporary parallels between the Bisbee deportation and ICE tactics, but the topicality extends even further than that, particularly with the divide between Bisbee citizens over whether to fully reckon with the nastiness of their history or to simply explain it away.

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