True/False Film Fest is a massive undertaking that succeeds year after year — its ticket sales have grown by nearly 1,200 percent over the past 15 years. The majority of people who make it possible freely give their time, and it pays off for both the fest and those volunteers.
The festival spans nine venues and shows nearly 50 films. It requires a large labor force to keep the production afloat, and work begins months before the festival. Volunteer co-coordinator Cathy Gunther says there are about 850 volunteers who assume a variety of responsibilities, including constructing displays for various venues, directing filmmakers around screening locations, selling merchandise, and cleaning up after the festival ends. “Volunteers do a huge amount of the on-the-ground work for the festival,” Gunther says.
Most volunteers typically commit at least 20 hours to the fest — but some go above and beyond. Those who spend 40 hours or more of their time are designated as a juggernaut volunteer.
The festival clearly benefits from the help it receives, but the volunteers also reap rewards for dedicating their time. In terms of tangible benefits, volunteers are given a T-shirt and a pass that allows them access to films during the fest for free. The pass also works when that year’s documentaries are shown at Ragtag Cinema throughout the rest of the year.
In terms of intangible rewards, volunteering allows people the opportunity to give back to the community. Mike Rowson, a 13-year volunteer, says he takes pleasure in simply offering his time to others. “I get a certain amount of satisfaction out of just doing something for someone else.”
Volunteers also offer their time because it fulfills an interest to live and breathe film, Gunther says, which gives them a way to peek behind the curtain and gain a better understanding of a film festival production. She adds that others believe volunteering at the festival grants them an opportunity to make personal connections and participate in a citywide effort. “A lot of people really love the fact that they’re doing something in their community,” Gunther says, referencing feedback from yearly surveys completed by volunteers. “They feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Former True/False volunteer and current employee Shelby Hart started volunteering after she didn’t get a job on the education team. She was still encouraged to volunteer, and after that experience, she applied for the assistant box office manager position. This is her first year as a True/False employee.
Gunther herself got involved with True/False after hearing positive feedback from friends who had participated since the fest began. She wanted to do useful work away from MU, where she teaches biology. “I want to be with people that don’t frequent the university all the time.”
Whatever the reason for donating their time, the volunteers’ diligent and tireless work makes True/False possible. And in return, True/False ensures they — and the festival’s attendees — are rewarded for it. ￼