Post written by VoxTalk guest blogger Reuben Stern, Futures Lab Editor at the Reynolds Journalism Institute and host of Intersection on KBIA/91.3 FM.

Having the film world descend on Columbia for the True/False Film Festival is one thing. Witnessing small-town Missouri explode on the big screen at a prominent film festival like South by Southwest is quite another.

The feature-length documentary, We Always Lie to Strangers, premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, on Monday, March 11.

The debut caps five years of filming by Columbia wunderkind (and True/False co-conspirator) David Wilson and veteran documentary maker AJ Schnack. The pair gathered more than 400 hours of footage along the way.

The finished film follows several residents of Branson, Mo., (population 10,730) who work behind the scenes to create the wholesome spectacle that attracts more than 7 million tourists a year. Along the way, the film reveals a lot about the dynamics of family, music, showbiz, politics, tourism, kitsch and, most of all, the social fabric that holds together small towns all across the state of Missouri.

Directors AJ Schnack and David Wilson showing off their rhinestone-wearing ability at SXSW. Photo by Reuben Stern.

Wilson and Schnack appeared with fellow collaborator Nathan Truesdell to introduce the film wearing the same kind of rhinestone-studded, red-white-and-blue honky-tonk jackets worn in one of the bejeweled Branson stage numbers featured in the film.

For a Q&A that followed the screening, the filmmakers brought to the stage several of the people featured in the film, including Raeanne Presley, mayor of Branson and member of a theater-owning family; Bill Lennon, part of another multi-generational musical family; and Chip Holderman, a stage performer whose personal life illustrates the complications that arise when conservative values meet a business that tends to employ a lot of liberal and/or gay people.

Filmmakers AJ Schnack, Nathan Truesdell and David Wilson chat with Janet Pierson, director of SXSW Film Festival at the showing. Photo by Reuben Stern.

Later that evening, the filmmakers, film subjects and several supporters from Columbia (and elsewhere) celebrated the film’s debut while listening to live performance by musicians from Branson at a party sponsored in part by the Missouri Division of Tourism and the Missouri Film Commission.

The film already seems to be getting good buzz and positive reviews, and will be screened at several other festivals in April.

Video interviews with filmmakers and subjects:

To hear reaction from the filmmakers and some of the people featured in the film immediately after the screening, watch the following clips by Reuben Stern. Wilson says it was the first time he saw his movie finished and polished.

Interview with AJ Schnack, director:

Interview with David Wilson, director:

Interview with Chip Holderman, performer and one of the film’s subjects:

Interview with Raeanne Presley, Branson mayor and one of the film’s subjects:

Read more about the film:

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