Q&A: David Wilson, True/False Film Fest

For the first time ever, the True/False Film Fest, a documentary film festival in mid-Missouri, will be held at Stephens Lake Park instead of in downtown Columbia. The fest will take place May 5–9. All the films will be shown outdoors on giant portable screens, and moviegoers will bring their own seating. The 2021 theme is The Nature of Uncertainty, and the festival embraces it. We talked with David Wilson, the co-founder of the festival and the 2021 interim artistic director, to learn more about the changes.

What are some big differences people can expect this year?

We stripped the fest down to its core spirit and core values, and then built a new thing. It’s going to feel very different. It’s an outdoor fest almost entirely. It’s taking place at Stephens Lake Park here in Columbia. It’s an amazing park. We always tried to do outdoor events when we could—March isn’t usually a good time, but May is actually a great time. I’m excited about a lot of what we’re doing, but it’s all in a response to a situation that we wish were otherwise. We love downtown, we love our festival footprint, we love the nature of True/False in a normal year. It’s just not a normal year.

Can you talk about what the 2021 theme means to you?

We always look for things that we think feel relevant to the moment but also have a connection to art and filmmaking. So one of the great things about documentary filmmaking is you can be a very good filmmaker and you can find a good story, but you don’t always get something wonderful. It almost always takes something unexpected happening to really make it a great film, and that’s so different from fiction filmmaking. One of the really big differences is to make a great documentary, you have to lean into the uncertainty. You have to sort of create space of unknown as a filmmaker.

How did you end up becoming the interim artistic director?

Chris Boeckmann, who had been the director of programming, left the fest and they needed someone to step in, not in a long-term way, but someone who could not only help out this year in general, but specifically help imagine what a fest might look like in pandemic times and I think that’s something I am well suited for so I was happy to lend a hand.

How does the 2021 festival still accomplish the overall mission of the True/False Film Fest?

We’ve evolved over the years to truly be an arts festival. A fest that not only celebrates great documentary filmmaking on an international level but also celebrates great music, great visual art, and finds connections between these different kinds of artists. We’re going to have concerts throughout the afternoon and into the evening everyday. We’re going to be building a giant sculpture garden in the park that anybody can come and check out, and we’ll be able to enhance other interactive aspects of the fest, everything from scavenger hunts to storytelling events that will make this year feel really special. One of our guiding principles with building this year’s fest is that we want it to feel inclusive. We want people to come down and spend time in the park. There will be all kinds of things going on that will be free and accessible.

What are you personally most excited about for the 2021 festival?

Deep down, I love turning watching a movie into an event. I love when it transforms from the thing we all do on the couch every night into something we do with each other, and this has been a year of real challenges in doing things with other people. And I miss that. So the idea of watching a movie outdoors surrounded by a few hundred other people and feeling safe doing that, but also feeling the energy of that crowd, is very exciting to me.