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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

True/False Film Festival behind the scenes: a volunteer’s perspective

By Amanda Noel

If you have lived in Columbia for very long, you have most likely heard and perhaps taken part in Columbia’s True/False Film Festival, an annual weekend festivity where artists flock to Columbia to showcase their documentary films, music and other creative forms of entertainment to eager, thrill-seeking crowds. But what would the festival be without people to man the ticket booths, usher the theater aisles, set up and break down for events, and help keep everything running smoothly? That is where the hundreds of dedicated volunteers come in.

The directors of T/F say on their Web site, “If films are the mind of the Fest, our volunteers are the heart.” To volunteers they say, “Your investment of time, love and energy is what gives soul to the True/False experience, and we truly couldn't do it without you (nor would we want to).”
And what do the volunteers get out of the gig? By agreeing to work 15 hours throughout the weekend, they receive a volunteer pass that grants them free admission to films at all festival venues and free admission to screenings of T/F films at the Ragtag Cinema even after the festival is over (except on Fridays and Saturdays). At the end of the festival, T/F puts on a volunteers-only party and hosts a screening to celebrate all the hard work the volunteers put in over the weekend.
This year’s festival was held Feb. 25 – 28. The main venues where volunteers were stationed for screenings were the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, the Blue Note, the two-screen Ragtag Cinema, the Forrest Theater at the Tiger Ballroom, Stephens College's Chapel and Windsor Auditorium.

Megan Johnson, a faculty member at the Columbia College-Jefferson City campus, said her experience with T/F was sparked by a fascination she had with independent films and documentaries. She developed this interest in college at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo., where she frequented a local independent cinema called The Moxie. “I have been to the Ragtag several times and caught wind of True/False from going there,” said Johnson. “Since I heard it was coming up, I went online and saw that they were still in need of volunteers and that they were recruiting roughly 600 people, so I signed on.”

The first event Johnson attended was the volunteer pep rally at Stephens College prior to the start of the festival. “I went to [the pep rally] and was astounded,” said Johnson. “There were so many people there!” She mentioned that there were all types of volunteers in attendance in addition to general volunteers, like her. This range of volunteers included juggernauts, who dedicate 40 hours before, during, or after the Fest, and the Queens, who are in charge of the Q.

“The Q is the way you get into films if you don’t have a reserved seat and a pass,” explained Johnson. “It’s kind of complicated but the rationale is that there is always someone who gets a pass and won’t go to every film they reserve and so the Q is designed so every seat is filled. Those who Q are usually volunteers or people who want to go to one or two shows and just pay $10 as opposed to $60 [for a weekend pass].”

Johnson said her volunteer experience began at the Forrest Theater, where she quickly became familiar with the Q and instantly met several people. “One [volunteer] worked in Registration at Columbia College, one attends the Journalism School at Mizzou, and the other ones were from various walks of life (married, older, very young). The rest of the weekend Johnson volunteered at the Ragtag, “a decidedly busier venue,” she said. “Again, the volunteers ranged from young to old, students to established careers, and everyone had fun, vibrant, energetic attitudes. I met so many wonderful people that shared the same interest as me – films.”

Johnson said, “The entire event was well organized, and I had more fun that weekend than I remember having in years. I would volunteer at True/False again in a heartbeat.”

Best Volunteer Memories from T/F 2010

Reported on the T/F blog by volunteer Dylan Conn, a high school student from Chicago:

• “Going to sleep at 4 a.m., only to wake up four hours later and see five films that day.

• A lingering desire to try and light my tap water on fire after seeing “GasLand.”

• Interacting with fest-goers; those who thanked me and those who argued with me.

• Asking the director of “Last Train Home” for his tickets before realizing who he was.

• Standing for the duration of “The Invention of Dr. NakaMats.” I could’t NOT get into a film!”

Photo credits:
  1.  Photo courtesy of
  2. Tricia Dietrich volunteers as a “Q queen” for the 2009 True False Film Festival. Photo courtesy of

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