If you’re a True/False Film Festival fanatic, you might have noticed something missing from this year's film lineup. The secret screenings, a True/False staple since the event's inception, are nowhere to be found.
True/False programmer Chris Boeckmann confirmed the omission is purposeful. Although secret screenings have always been a True/False tradition, driving whispered buzz between attendees, 2019 will mark the first fest without them.
True/False's positioning as "filmmaker friendly" rather than as an “industry festival,” according to Boeckmann, originally opened the door for secret screenings. An industry festival hosts film distributors, agents and press en masse; try picturing swaths of red carpet and nonstop flashing camera bulbs in Columbia, Missouri.
True/False programmers instead chose to showcase select films they loved that hadn't yet debuted at a world or North American premiere. They did this through the hush-hush secret screenings. Often these films would later receive an invitation from an industry-oriented festival happening after True/False. Filmmakers would thus allow their creations to be screened in secret at True/False, so long as a) audiences agreed not to publicly discuss the film, and b) the film's title would not be uttered or displayed. Boeckmann and other workers would then keep an eye on social media to ensure nothing revealing was said about each film.
As True/False has grown over the years, so has the industry presence at the fest, and Boeckmann says that presence has only benefited the films and the filmmakers. Boeckmann says distributors and sales agents are taking the college-town festival more seriously, with more attending the event every year. Ten years ago, True/False paid two or three writers to attend the fest. This year, between 30 and 40 writers will be on site. The need for secret screenings is fading.
The secret screenings "were originally out of necessity so that we can play what we love, and then we got to this place where there were films that actually were wanting to world premiere with us,” Boeckmann says.
Although there were benefits to secret screenings — such as the opportunity for filmmakers to receive feedback and make changes before their films premiered — there were also drawbacks. “It's hard to accurately sell a secret screening movie when you aren't able to use any details about it,” Boeckmann says.
The shocked reaction to the lack of secret screenings this year has shown how much the audience enjoyed them. Boeckmann says a number of people have professed their love for the tradition, asking him why they were done away with. This reaction also led Boeckmann to another realization: It hadn’t been made clear these screenings were out of necessity, not choice.
But for those worried a hallmark of True/False might be gone for good, don’t fret. Boeckmann says, in future festival iterations, the films will be evaluated for secret screenings on a case-by-case basis. If it's best for a film to premiere elsewhere, there is still always a chance it will find a temporary (secret) home in Columbia.