If Beale Street Could Talk
Jenkins’ decision to let the original storyteller live and breathe throughout If Beale Street Can Talk is a wise one.
After a maddening flight delay due to fickle Midwestern weather, I landed in St. Louis, Missouri with just enough time to catch my shuttle to Columbia, the home of the annual True/False Film Festival, running this year from March 2-5. Though I spent most of the two-hour shuttle ride listening to music and staring out the window, watching the sparse canvas of Missouri highways—fast food restaurants, car dealerships, fireworks stores, gun shops, and billboards of the right-wing persuasion—I soon learned that I was sharing the ride with two directors who were set to premiere films this weekend. One of them, a Danish short film director, was in the passenger seat, intermittently filming the ride with her phone camera and eagerly asking the driver questions about the area. She would later tell me that she regretted not bringing her analog camera on the journey as she excitedly found images out of the corner of her eye. I wouldn’t see downtown Columbia until the following afternoon, but nevertheless I quickly caught a glimpse of the type of people who travel here, those who are persistently interested in the wide world around them.
Later when I met up with a colleague of mine, I got a better sense of the True/False community—a mix of artists, journalists, and festival folk, not to mention ambitious Mizzou students. Admittedly, my perspective on the festival’s totality is so far narrow, as the films won’t begin to screen until this afternoon and I have yet to see the full breadth of Columbia, but it’s nice to be around people who are clearly passionate about their professions as well as other people. They’re willing to share in their knowledge and just be a good hang, an all-too rare combination these days.
It goes without saying that True/False doesn’t have the industry bloat that permeates the larger film fests, but moreover its unique mission to create a “celebratory refuge for filmmakers and amplify the possibilities of creative nonfiction” all but renders the economic burdens of the film marketplace temporarily irrelevant. It’s an opportunity to share and inspire with films that exist in the ambiguous space between fiction and reality. It’s not so much a question of, “What is real?” It’s more of, “Will you accept the reality presented to you?”
Over the next few days, I will be experiencing plenty of films that assume this mantle and take True/False’s mission to heart. Some of these include Viktor Jakovleski’s “Brimstone and Glory,” a kaleidoscope-esque journey into the spectacular world of fireworks in Tultepec, Mexico; Kitty Green’s “Casting JonBenet,” about the collective, conflicted memories of the unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen; Travis Wilkerson’s multimedia live performance “Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?,” about a murder in the director’s own family history; and “Rat Film,” a poetic portrait of the shadow-dwelling rodents in the city of Baltimore. Other films involve explorations of students both young and old—Petra Lataster-Czisch and Peter Lataster’s “Miss Kiet’s Children” and Claire Simon’s “The Graduation”—portraits of everyday individuals contending with death and trauma that touched their lives—Yance Ford’s “Strong Island” and Florent Vassault’s “Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2”—and even montages of Russian dashboard camera footage—Dmitrii Kalashnikov’s “The Road Movie.”
This is quite real. Will you accept it with me?
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