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True/False Film Fest 2018 Khalik Allah’s Black Mother

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True/False Film Fest 2018: Khalik Allah’s Black Mother

Cinereach

True/False Film Fest 2018: Khalik Allah’s Black Mother

Because of its conveniently contained setting (Columbia, Missouri, home to the state’s largest university) and its independent ethic (a willful disregard for awards, promotional parties, industry dealing, and the atmosphere of corporatized networking that comes with all of this), the True/False Film Fest is regarded as a haven for both fans and creators of documentaries. It’s an unusually democratized event, and it celebrates the community of volunteers and musicians that help the event proceed so smoothly with as much fervor as it does the films and filmmakers that it hosts.

The warmth with which Columbia welcomes its many hundreds of annual attendees remains beguiling, but one of the amusingly dissonant things about True/False is that however much it feels like the city exists simply to host this event, an entire world carries on in and around it. On weekend nights, bars and sidewalks teem with ebullient undergrads, dangerously underdressed for their ambling from one party to the next. The fleeting world of the festival and the ongoing life of the town commingle and collide in fascinating ways; one undergrad stopped a group of us in the street at 1:30 am explicitly to recommend the charming 1972 pop-rock doodle “Magnet” by the band NRBQ. True/False is an idyll, but it’s just one of many ecosystems carrying on in Columbia on this particular weekend.

True/False Film Fest 2015: Going Clear, Field Niggas, & White Out, Black In

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True/False Film Fest 2015: <em>Going Clear</em>, <em>Field Niggas</em>, & <em>White Out, Black In</em>
True/False Film Fest 2015: <em>Going Clear</em>, <em>Field Niggas</em>, & <em>White Out, Black In</em>

A lazy, sensationalistic piece of cinematic journalism based on a masterpiece of narrative reportage, Alex Gibney’s Going Clear takes the revelations of Lawrence Wright’s work exposing the inner workings of the Church of Scientology and twists them into two hours of talking-head interviews, reenactments, and pointless scaremongering. The prolific director reliably releases two or three features a year on infamous celebrities or provocative subjects, and his approach is fluid, sweeping, and at this point dispiritingly formulaic. Gibney’s ambition is to create the definitive documentary on each of his subjects; as such, his films refuse to dwell on the ambiguities or hypocrisies that might make them more worthwhile than a half hour on YouTube and Wikipedia.

Wright’s presence in Going Clear is a persistent reminder of what the film could have been. Early on, he declares an interest in systems of belief with a “crushing certainty that erases doubt,” but the film’s synopsis of Scientology is delivered with a sneer. The religion’s duped apostates speak of signing billion-year contracts, spending vast sums of money on elevating the church’s baroque hierarchy of spiritual achievement, and being treated cruelly as lesser acolytes (John Travolta, Tom Cruise) are festooned with honors intended to keep them espousing the religion’s benefits. Wright explains how L. Ron Hubbard transformed his work in science fiction into a formal set of beliefs, and the film quickly reminds us that Hubbard was “prone to invention,” dredging up inflated war stories and some heinous treatment of his lovers and children.