Even though the staff had to rearrange many events, True/False Film Fest kept some staple traditions of the event alive. The festival is still able to celebrate two special films, the recipient of the True Life Fund and the winner of the True Vision Award. The 2021 honorees are Sabaya by Hogir Hirori and Delphine’s Prayers by Rosine Mbakam.
The True Life Fund
This fund is a philanthropic effort that started in 2007 to recognize a nonfiction film each year. The fund allows the audience to directly respond to the stories they are seeing on-screen by letting them donate to real-life subjects of the film.
True/False understands the festival thrives because of the real-life stories told each year, which often showcase people with limited means. In collaboration with filmmakers, True/False makes sure that the money is given to those who need it. The fund is meant to support and honor the people willing to share their stories on camera.
This year’s selection, Sabaya, documents the struggles of two volunteers at a Yazidi Home Center on the Syrian/Iraqi border as they attempt to liberate women who are being held captive as sex slaves in Daesh (ISIS) refugee camps. The volunteers’ work puts them at personal risk. This sacrifice of personal safety is equaled by the young women of the camp, some of whom voluntarily return to help save their fellow captives.
During production, Hirori often slept near the main entrance of the al-Hol camp. One night, he awoke to the voices of police officers and subsequently discovered that ISIS was supposedly planning to detonate a car bomb by the entrance.
“Every minute felt like an hour,” Hirori says. “Time stopped, and I was very afraid — afraid for my own life, but also afraid that this was the start of a comeback for ISIS.”
Hirori pondered the implications of risking his life because he did not want to leave behind his wife and children. However, he never regretted making the documentary because its importance “outweighed everything else,” he says. The recognition of Sabaya means a lot to Hirori because of the fund’s potential to affect the lives of those featured in the film.
The money will go to the production company, which will support the Yazidi Home Center and the documentary’s subjects. “I hope that it will give much-needed support to all those fighting to save the kidnapped women and girls,” he says.
The True Vision Award
The only award given at True/False, its aim is to celebrate a director or directing team dedicated to the art and advancement of nonfiction filmmaking.
This year’s True Vision Award celebrates Mbakam’s film Delphine’s Prayers. This intimate film is a retelling of a Cameroonian-Belgian immigrant woman’s heart-wrenching story and has earned Mbakam praise for being a pioneer in documentary filmmaking.
Filmed in one room, Delphine recounts a life of hardships and moments of love. She goes through tales of her life including the tragic death of her mother, sexual exploitation in Cameroon and her current, unfulfilling marriage in Belgium. Giving her subject space to grieve and tell her story, Mbakam participates in a co-crafted narrative covering gender, class, race and displacement. The intimate setting allows the audience to bear witness to Delphine’s light.
Mbakam says she was surprised to receive the email announcing her selection for the True Vision Award. When she dreamed of storytelling as a child, she could not imagine having such an impact.
Growing up, a lack of movies by African filmmakers made her feel like she knew American culture better than Cameroon’s. Mbakam sees African filmmaking as essential for the betterment of society because film is a key component in confronting topical issues.
“I couldn’t believe that [my work] would touch people so far away,” Mbakam says. “[This recognition] is so, so hopeful for me and for young African people that want to do art and touch people around the world.”