When discussing film festivals, it’s important to know that they can fall into one of five categories. You have your major and minor industry film festivals, the city festival, the genre festival and your mom and pop festivals. Sure, the big industry (Cannes, Sundance etc.) festivals are the most influential, but the actual enjoyment of said festivals are often hotly contested. In some cases, people tell me it was the best time of their movie-going lives. For others, it’s the worst place you can go to actually enjoy a movie.
I, unfortunately, cannot weigh into the debate, as, previous to today, I have only attended city festivals. These are festivals more geared towards typical movie-goers, as opposed to journalists and film buyers. Audiences are, for the most part, well-behaved and films aren’t at all difficult to see when you have a press badge. It’s a completely different experience than, say, Cannes.
Well, it turns out it’s a totally different experience than the genre festivals, too.
This year mark’s True/False’s fifteenth birthday, and my first time attending. It’s a bit shameful on my part considering that this beloved documentary film festival is only a two-hour drive from my hometown. That doesn’t really matter now though. What matters is that I’m here, and I’m absolutely ecstatic.
Admittedly, I was a bit nervous when I pulled into Columbia, MO this evening. I rolled in later than I had planned; there was traffic coming in to the city. I was concerned I wouldn’t make it to the 8 pm screening of Khalik Allah’s Black Mother. I also had a lot of unknown variables in front of me regarding locating my press pass, finding the theatre, etc. The results of the day of were a bit of a mixed bag. The Black Mother screening did not pan out, which marks my first time not getting into a screening at a film festival. The Wi-Fi in my motel was not working, which lead to me getting into a nasty fight with manager. (As I write this, I’m using my phone as a hotspot.) I got lost on the way back to my hotel, causing me to start this report well after midnight. (Oh well. It’s not a good festival if you aren’t sleep deprived!) Yet I’m going to bed in a good mood, which is largely due to the late-night screening of American Animals.
American Animals is a first-time narrative feature from a director, Bart Layton, whose previous work includes The Imposter, a documentary film that played at True/False 2012. This is a fiction film that utilizes documentary elements to ask questions about the role of storytelling and re-think the way we tell films based on true events. It received glowing reviews from the Sundance critics, and, judging by the plaudits it received tonight, it seems like it’ll go over just as well here.
The film recounts the 2004 “Transy Book Heist” in which four Kentucky University students attempt to steal extraordinarily valuable texts from their own college library. It’s not about the money though. Each of their own specific reason for getting involved, but they are unified by a desire for a transformative experience. They want to feel like their lives add up to something, something big. So they commit a robbery.
American Animals has a rather tongue-in-cheek approach to its subject matter, and spends much of the first half of its runtime sweeping you up into the Hollywoodized version. The first half of the film really sweeps you up in a Hollywood version of the crime, which, at first, seems to rub against the film’s message. Around the final third of the film that bubble is popped, and, along with our characters, we descend very quickly into a harsh reality. My stomach dropped with it, and stayed that way until the end credits.
Did I mention that the real-life subjects exist within the film? Layton often breaks apart his own narrative to allow the real people to tell their stories, and at times to even exist within the narrative world and openly question his account. This move, and how well Layton plays it, is what makes American Animals something special. I promise you’ve never seen someone play with the film form like this.
Well, I’m at the end of this report now and I’ve hardly scratched the surface of what makes True/False unique. Tomorrow I’ve got three films to see, so hopefully I can give a fuller representation of the festival. | Cait Lore