Thoughts From the 2015 T/F Film Fest

One of the qualities of a good film, whether fiction or documentary, is it’s ability to reflect something of reality—of the world and experiences we all inhabit. And after thinking through the documentaries I was able to catch Columbia’s own True/False Film Fest over the last few days, I’m struck by a couple of common threads that wound their way through much of what I saw.

First, Christian theologians have often made much of the fact that human beings are, fundamentally speaking, worshippers. That is, we have to give our lives to something: if not God, then something or someone else. This reality was on display in some form in every film I attended.

Second, most everyone who has ever looked in a mirror has recognized that humanity is a flawed enterprise. Each one of us in falls short of the best we have to offer, and we do so in ways that range from mundane to astonishing, from humorous to tragic. Again, film after film illustrated the point.

To flesh these things out a bit more, I thought I’d include a few more specific thoughts about a handful of the films (listed in alphabetical order) I was able to see:

Best of Enemies

Presenting televised debates between liberal icon Gore Vidal and conservative stalwart William F. Buckley as the forerunners of our current polarizing political discourse, Best of Enemies focuses more on the manner in which we discuss the issues than the issues themselves. By doing so, the film is evidence of how difficult it is to engage in respectful and constructive debate over anything meaningful. Ill-will, insults, dismissiveness, and anger all display themselves in the conversation between Vidal and Buckley. But each of those thing can often be traced to a kind of worship of self that every one of us is susceptible to, one that manifests itself in personal pride and valuing “winning” over the illumination of truth and the good of those involved.

Cartel Land

What can spark enough desire and allegiance to compel human beings to treat each other with incredible cruelty? Just how much can ordinary citizens take into their hands when the governing authorities don’t seem willing or able to help? Why do those who ostensibly seek to fight injustice and wrongdoing so often succumb to the same? When things are so extensively broken, where can one even begin to fix them? Cartel Land, a film that examines the impact of the Mexican drug cartels on both sides of the border, raises all these questions in vivid fashion. As far as answers go, however, it is far less forthcoming. This was perhaps the film I found to be the most compelling of those I saw (due in no small part by the big reveal at its end), but it is unmistakably a reminder that things are not the way they’re supposed to be.

Finders Keepers

How is that two men can dispute which one them owns an amputated foot—that was once attached to one of them? How can it possibly mean so much to both? On the surface, Finder’s Keepers is an amusing take on a highly unusual situation. Below that, however, is profound sadness. One man is shackled by grief, regrets, and repeated mistakes. The other is in constant pursuit of a life in the limelight, the only life he seems to believe is worthwhile. That neither approach works well hints at the need to root our lives in something capable of withstanding and even transforming our failures, disappointments, and tragedies.

Going Clear

Going Clear is, among other things, a powerful testimony that people want to find peace, joy, and fulfillment in their lives. So much so, in fact, that they’ll immerse themselves in the often-bizarre beliefs and practices of a 20th century science fiction writer—what we now call Scientology—even when that involvement opens them up to significant financial costs and serious manipulation. I can’t help but think that this film is a good start to a conversation about a number of questions, including whether or not all religions are ultimately teaching the same thing, how we might discern the validity of religious truth claims, and who or what is ultimately worth our devotion.


What could possibly motivate a group of three men to risk hunger, exposure, and death in order to be the first to climb an ultra-challenging mountain peak…only to fail and then try again? Add in the fact that each of the three has come close to being killed in other mountain experiences and the question becomes even more pressing. When I watched their story play out through some truly remarkable footage, I felt deeply ambivalent. On the one hand, I couldn’t deny a sense of significance and even glory when they finally reached the summit. One the other, I was frustrated that they’d put themselves and those they love in such a precarious situation. I still don’t know what caused those men to climb that mountain, or what they experienced in reaching its peak: a rush, a sense of accomplishment or personal satisfaction? I left genuinely wondering if it could possibly be worth the risk.

One Comment

  1. Jan Ritter said:

    Meru was truly inspiring. I wish the glory could have been given to God and wonder what they may have gone through spiritually due to their near death experiences. I left there thinking that when challenges are faced I might remember their fight and perseverance as an inspiration. I might say, “This is my MERU”. However, I do feel that their need to accomplish this is something we may never understand and it probably was a source of pride for them. I kept wondering how he could be selfish and risk so much when he had a wife and children to raise. Once the film revealed that those children were not really his then I understood. I don’t believe if they really were his kids he would have done that. It was my favorite film of the fest.

    Loved the film our church sponsored. What a powerful testimony of forgiveness from one man. What a powerful testimony of deception of so many other men. What a confirmation that evil really exists and many who are controlled by it are not only unaware but proud of it.

    I was very moved by Men of War. It was refreshing to see that the film showed the VA services, offered to these men, in a very positive light. War is always messy and families sacrifice so much when someone serves their country. Praise God that one day there will be no more war.

    Tea Time reminded me of the struggles of old age and the sadness it can bring seeing your closest friends die. Yet, friendship and faith provided strength to those enjoyable women. I loved the phrase of one woman who said, “A party without singing is very dull”. She sang songs or hymns for her friends at every tea party in her casual conversations. She was delightful.

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