Five Women Who Inspired Me at True/False
by Paige Pritchard
The True/False Documentary Film Festival is consistently one of the best weekends of my year. It occurs during the first few days of March in downtown Columbia, Missouri, where I lived from 2007 up until last May. This was my seventh visit to the festival; I saw my first True/False documentary as a freshman journalism student at the University of Missouri. That year ticket sales topped out at around 15,000, with a volunteer force of 250. This year the festival sold 42,500 tickets and welcomed around 700 volunteers. It was featured across media outlets, including The New York Times and Time magazine’s list of the top 50 cultural experiences to try in 2014.
I could wax poetic about what True/False means to me, but I’d rather not navel-gaze for that long. Instead, I want to use this bandwidth to unashamedly brag about some of the women I spent time with during last weekend’s festival. Some of them I’ve known, some of them I just recently met, and some of them I’ve only watched on screen. Whatever the situation, they all inspired me on a significant level. These women had an idea and then did something with it. They didn’t wait for anyone to give them permission; they just found a way to make their ideas manifest. That’s what Kaylen and Joanna did, and that’s what we’re all trying to do here at The Riveter.
So here they are: The five women (among countless others) who inspired me at True/False.
Tracy Droz Tragos, co-director of Rich Hill
Tracy directed Rich Hill with her cousin, Andrew Droz Palermo. The film is a story of rural Missouri life, and it touches on important themes like poverty, prejudice and mental health. Above all, it focuses on the powerful bond of love within the families they profile. I walked away from the film affected on an emotional level, and it wasn’t until after the festival that I realized Rich Hill was one of the only screenings I saw with a female director. I don’t think this reflects poorly on True/False—other films at the festival like Ukraine is Not a Brothel and Private Violence were made by women. But I do think there’s a lack of female filmmakers getting the attention they need to make it to festivals, or even to a place where they are financially able make the kind of films they want to make. (Because of this issue, women’s film festivals exist. Underwire Festival, Birds Eye View Film Festival and Citizen Jane Film Festival are examples.) I hope women in these positions can look to careers like Tracy’s and feel encouraged. She started as a video game producer with DreamWorks, then went on to win an Emmy for her debut film Be Good, Smile Pretty. This January, Rich Hill won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance Film Festival. In addition to all of this, she’s a mother of two and keeps a blog on the website for Dinky Pictures, her production company. Here’s an excerpt from one of her recent posts, in which she looks back on her career:
“There were the years of knowing what I wanted to do—but still trying to get other folks to give me permission to do it. And then I learned that only I could give myself permission.”
Like I said, these women just go do it. Thanks for the advice, Tracy, and thanks for a beautiful film.
Tracy Droz Tragos (third from right) answers questions after a screening of Rich Hill.
Fabiola Gianotti, particle physicist featured in Particle Fever
If anyone watched me during the screening of Particle Fever, he or she would have noticed my eyes light up every time Fabiola Gianotti graced the screen. This is the woman who announced to the world the existence of the Higgs boson. And she’s absolutely amazing. As a particle physicist with an emphasis in data analysis, Gianotti played a large role in the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. If the last sentence sounded too much like text from a science book, I recommend you watch Particle Fever. The film profiles scientists such as Gianotti about what their work at the LHC (the world’s largest machine) really means. It’s no mistake that she was chosen as a subject for the film: after working at CERN for almost two decades, she went on to become the main spokesperson for the ATLAS research. In the film, she communicates her team’s work in generalist terms, and her presence is enjoyable to watch. The ease with which she discusses physics makes it sound effortless. In reality, Gianotti had to get a PhD in experimental subnuclear physics from the University of Milan just to be considered for the program. At one point in the film, she sits down at a piano, stares straight into the camera, and begins playing professional grade music without a flinch. It turns out she also graduated with a music degree from the Milan Conservatory. Don’t ever let people say science is a boy’s game. Don’t ever let them say music is a boy’s game. Because Fabiola Gianotti exists, and she’ll prove them wrong and prove the existence of new matter all in one day.
MNDR, electronic musician featured in the Saturday night showcase
I’ve listened to MNDR’s “#1 in Heaven” on my way to work every day for the past week. On some level, I must be trying to relive the moment from last weekend where I found myself dancing on stage with Amanda Warner, the goddess behind MNDR’s grooves. My new car jam is from her first full-length album, Feed Me Diamonds, released in 2012 and featured in SPIN magazine as one of the best pop albums of 2012. She’s performed as a featured musician for past True/False festivals, but this year she closed out Saturday night with a sweaty dance party at the Mojos’ A Go Go music showcase. I’m always amazed with the stage presence of electronic artists. MNDR connected to the audience from behind her computer and a collection of tables—she turned up the volume, had two fierce Fly Girls work the crowd, and played hard until the bar closed. I’m still not sure if we were really allowed on stage, or if it was the result of a guerrilla effort from the front two rows, but she handled it well, exuding a cool and confident demeanor. Her music deftly blends pop-princess qualities with defined beats and introspective lyrics. (She wrote “Feed Me Diamonds” for Serbian performance artist and political activist Marina Abramović, whose father was allegedly assassinated by being fed powdered diamonds.) This blend of thoughtfulness and fun reflects many elements of the True/False festival, making her a perfect candidate for the weekend’s resident DJ.
Camellia Cosgray; productions, operations, and installations manager for True/False
It’s hard to pick just one woman from the festival’s art and design team to spotlight. The group is made up of intensely talented individuals who have a special knack for turning vision into reality. As productions, operations, and installations manager with the festival, Cosgray helps direct and create the art installations seen throughout downtown Columbia. This year she brought in Minneapolis-based artist Eric Rieger, who collaborated with local Columbia artist Katie Jenkins to build a three-story hanging yarn sculpture in the rotunda of a University of Missouri building. She personally contributed to the festival’s art with an iconic world-map painting at the Globe Theater. Covering most of the theater’s back wall, this painting is lit up to resemble stained glass, and it remains one of the largest installations at the festival. She also had a hand in covering the festival’s buffalo statue, Barb, in pieces of deconstructed keyboard (see cover photo). As a venue-design volunteer with the festival, I worked in teams under Cosgray’s leadership. Although her art itself is impressive, I remember being more amazed by her management skills. Every year she works with volunteers and fellow artists and balances everyone’s talents in a way that brings out the best in their creations. It takes hundreds of hands to build impressive installations like the birch trees of the Forest Theater, or the colorful imagery of the festival’s box office. For many of these projects, Cosgray enlists the help of local artists. Read about their work on the festival’s art page, or check out Vox magazine’s story on some of the venue designers. Public art is one of the unique characteristics of True/False. Without Cosgray’s work, along with the artists mentioned above, the festival would lack the special air of whimsy that hypnotizes guests year after year.
Cosgray’s installation during a screening at the Globe Theater.
Emily Downing, festival musician and community space coordinator
Over the weekend, I crashed on the floor of my friend Emily Downing’s apartment, which houses a female-focused arts collective known as Groovy Grrls. She performed with two different bands during the festival, Comfort Zone and Nevada Greene, and acted in one of the shorts during the Gimme Truth film contest on Saturday. Getting to have sleepover-time at Emily’s house was a highlight of my festival experience. She’s a vibrant, strong woman who contains an infectious zeal for life and femininity. She also has a passion for community spaces, something she acted on by opening her home to myself and other friends during True/False.
Looking back on this post I’ve just written, it amazes me how many wonderful women I come into contact with on a daily basis. I don’t know when or where it happened, but I somehow ended up surrounded by an amazing community of rad ladies. I can’t stress the value of this to female readers. Just being close to creative women like the ones listed above exposes you to a richer world of opportunities. Make a point to know such women on both a personal and professional level. I can’t promise the exact benefits. Perhaps by following the career of your favorite female director, you’ll be inspired to finally make your movie. Or maybe, someday, a schoolmate and friend will start a magazine and bring you on as managing editor.
Whatever happens, make a point to learn from and be motivated by fabulous females. Then perhaps a young journalist will include you in her list of inspirational women.