COLUMBIA, MO – One of the world’s “coolest film festivals,” Columbia’s True/False Film Fest, is heading outdoors for 2021. This year’s True/False Film Fest will take place May 5-9, 2021 at the picturesque Stephens Lake Park, just a mile and a half from downtown Columbia.
In a normal year, the highly-acclaimed non-fiction film festival would take place throughout downtown Columbia the first weekend of March. But, these have been anything but normal times and, as such, True/False has the distinction of being the last major film festival to take place in 2020 and one of the first to take place in 2021. To make that happen festival organizers had to get creative to ensure a 2021 installment could be possible. “It has been very, very challenging to pull this off,” said David Wilson, festival co-founder. “Next to starting the festival, this year’s fest has been the most challenging to plan in the 17-year history of True/False. It took so many people being so careful and so detail-oriented to make this happen and there’s no way we could have done it without an extraordinary team effort.”
For nearly a year, organizers have been working closely with the City of Columbia and Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services to provide an outdoor cinematic event that will bring back “joyful community experiences” safely. These measures include socially-distanced seating in all venues, requiring fest-goers to wear masks while not eating or drinking and having hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations readily available and located throughout the park.
“It’s going to be a distanced fest and a safe fest but I think it will really reverberate within the community,” Wilson says. “Everyone has been cut off from one another for the last 12 months, so I believe people are really going to appreciate being at an in-person event and sharing the feeling of community again.”
In addition to providing for a safer environment, moving True/False to Stephens Lake Park offered the chance to think outside the box and the traditional True/False festival experience. “We’ve often talked about various dreams of outdoor events – and I love the smaller outdoor events we’ve done in the past – so this was a great opportunity to dream really big and do things we’ve never done before,” Wilson says. “It’s going to be a different experience, for sure, and while we won’t know until we get there, we feel like this is going to be a really mellow and relaxed fest. It’s like how food cooked over a campfire tastes better – movies watched outside together just feel better.”
Although there will be differences, the heart of the festival remains, just reframed and reimagined. The programing includes 17 celebrated feature-length films and 22 short-length films that push the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction as well as discussions with filmmakers following the screenings. Wilson says that the films selected are visually and sonically in tune with the outdoor setting and about half of the filmmakers will be at Stephens Lake Park while the other half will do virtual Q&As with the audience.
There will be busking musicians playing before all of the film screenings and there will be pop-up musical performances across the festival grounds. Instead of nightly concerts and music showcases after screenings, concerts will take place in the early afternoon before the screenings get started. Other hallmarks of the festival – the always-popular Gimme Truth! game show hosted by comedian Brian Babylon, and Campfire Stories – also will be taking place at Stephens Lake Park.
The 116-acre Stephens Lake Park will take on a life and identity of its own during the extended weekend. Engaging and interactive art installations will put a new face on the popular pastoral setting. There will be four unique outdoor screening venues at the park: “12 Point,” “Amphitheater,” “Sapling” and “Sled Hill.” The “Council Circle” will host three different Campfire Stories events with filmmakers, musicians, visual artists and story tellers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The “Big Field” will be the location of an organized kickball game on Saturday, the True/False “Flick-nic” (an organized picnic with live music on Thursday) and the raucous and entertaining closing-night musical crescendo of the Buskers’ Last Stand. There also will be a “COMO Square” complete with local pop-up restaurants, microbreweries, wineries, shops and vendors. COMO Square will be open Friday through Sunday. Columbia’s local food trucks, microbreweries and wineries will also be located at designated spots throughout the park. Additionally, Stephens Lake Park is not a “dry park,” so fest organizers encourage attendees to bring their own picnic or perhaps grab food to go from a downtown business to enjoy while at the park. In addition to the True/False ticketed events, there also will be a variety of activities that are free to attend and open to the public.
“We’re excited to see how True/False transforms the park for the fest this year,” says Megan McConachie, strategic communications manager for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The True/False team always carefully considers and curates every aspect of the event, from the films to music to art, so attendees can expect an immersive experience unlike anything they’ve seen in a park.”
Given the challenges of holding an in-person event, there have been a couple new additions for the 2021 festival worth highlighting. For those in town, there will be a nightly drive-in movie (Wednesday through Sunday) at the Holiday Inn Executive Center, located on the westside of town off of Interstate 70 and Stadium Boulevard, just 10-15 minutes from the festival grounds. Drive-in moviegoers will get to enjoy a True/False film from the comfort and safety of their own vehicle. Those attending a drive-in screening will tune into a specific radio station, which will be provided when arriving at the drive-in. Individual tickets for the drive-in also will be available for purchase.
For those not able or ready to travel, True/False offered the Teleported Fest package to provide the opportunity to enjoy the programmed films virtually from just about anywhere in the world. The Teleported Fest films “may include world premieres, secret screenings and surprise selections.” And, to ensure those with Teleported passes don’t feel like they’re missing out on the festival, they will receive a series of custom-designed packages of True/False supplies to round out the virtual experience. These packages are described as “absolutely not guaranteed to contain any/all of the following: popcorn, books, coffee, chocolate, scarves, mugs, t-shirts, music, hoodies, candles, calls to action, puzzles, socks, handmade crafts, potted plants, technological wonders, an inflatable box office, genuine imitation sticky theater floor mat, etc.” Teleported Fest passes must have been purchased by April 1 to allow ample time for shipping and delivery of the supplies/packages.
In regard to logistics and other considerations, attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs and/or blankets for the most comfortable in-person festival experience, though both will be for sale throughout the event.
Shuttle buses will be available at various locations downtown to transport attendees to and from the park.
Handicap parking is available on site as well as designated bicycle parking.
Passes are available for purchase online now and include the Super Circle Pass, Silver Circle Pass, Lux Pass, Parks and Rock Pass and the Simple Pass. In-person passes range from $75 to $975. For those that want to attend the festival but don’t want to buy a pass, individual tickets will go on sale Tuesday, April 20.
While the majority of the festival will take place at Stephens Lake Park, those planning to attend True/False Film Fest also are encouraged to spend some time enjoying Columbia’s historic downtown or other attractions before the festival begins each afternoon. For more information on the 2021 True/False Film Fest (including a complete list of films, festival FAQs and more), or to order passes and/or tickets, please visit TrueFalse.org.