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The First-Time Experience At True False Film Festival

Each year, the college town of Columbia, Missouri, embraces the True/False Film Festival, a multi-day celebration of cinema, music, arts, and community. I was invited to attend for the first time this year, and after a few days of pondering my experience, I’m ready to share with you all the good, tasty and emotionally-impactful events surrounding the annual event. 

A crowd surrounds a dancer on the street in Columbia, Missouri during the True/False Film Festival
Street performer at True/False Film Festival

Disclosure: My visit was hosted by Visit Colombia. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. This post may contain affiliate links.

2024 was the 21st year of the True/False Film Festival. The Ragtag Film Society, a 501c3 not-for-profit organization, runs this special festival under the mission to “captivate and engage communities in immersive arts experiences that explore assumptions and elicit shared joy, wonder, and introspection.”

I’ve seen my share of documentaries though I don’t think of myself as a person who could spend an entire weekend watching just documentaries. I was wrong. True False proved me wrong. I’d do it all over again, if given the chance.

In this post, I’ll share my experience of attending the festival as a one-time movie critic (long, long ago) who just enjoys movies. 

  • How I picked the movies to see (admittedly, I tried picking only the “feel good, happy movies”)
  • The restaurants and shops near the movie venues I liked
  • Where to stay
  • And what to do during the festival besides sitting in a dark room watching a screen
Festival goers walk in the March March, a parade during True/False Film Festivals
Kim in the middle of the March March

The True/False Film Festival experience

Columbia is located in between Kansas City and St. Louis in north central Missouri. It’s definitely driveable from Omaha. The best airport to fly into is St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

I drove to Columbia, which made it easy for me to get around town before the festival began. Once the festival started, I used the festival shuttle from my hotel, the Drury Plaza Hotel Columbia East, to get to downtown Columbia. It was easiest to walk to each venue once festivities were in full swing. 

A colorful mural of deer in downtown Columbia
Mural in downtown Columbia

Festival atmosphere and highlights

I arrived in Columbia a day before the True/False Film Festival started. There was a calm to the town, and I overheard conversations about the change that was to come. And, on cue, as soon as I started walking to my first screening, there was palpable excitement in the air. 

And a whole lot more people walking around Columbia. When I asked about it, I was told thousands – 10,000 or more – come to the festival each year. From what I could see, it attracted all ages, families, retirees, college students, as well as journalists and movie industry people.

The filmmakers for
“Girls State” Q&A

The festival is a platform for world premieres of some documentaries. Plus, all of the ones I attended included Q&A sessions with the filmmakers – and some times, some of the subjects in the films – following the screenings. 

Along Ninth Street, crowds of people roamed in and out of shops and restaurants, on their way to the next film venue. In the evenings, festival events closed off sections of the road. 

I saw just a small percentage of the films screened at the festival: “Girls State,” “Agent of Happiness,” “This Is Going To Be Big,” “Spermworld” and “Yintah.” What started out on a quest to find only the light-hearted movies, I ended up watching movies that angered me, confused me, made me cry, and made me relieved that certain people (the fighters, the scrappy kids, the kind-hearted) existed in the world.

The highlights of the 2024 festival will be different for each person, but for me, these are mine:

  • Favorite films were “This Is Going To Be Big” and “Girls State.” These were the most accessible films, in my opinion. And yes, I’d consider them “feel good” though I cried during both of them. “This Is Going To Be Big” is an Australian film about four neurodivergent high schoolers who are cast in their school’s musical. “Girls State” follows teenage girls in Missouri who take part in a week-long immersion in American Democracy – they must build a government from the ground up. Both films were humorous and endearing, and affirmed that there are still amazing kids in the world.
  • Most moving film experience was “Yintah,” which premiered at the festival. The movie documents the struggles of the Wet’suwet’en people against Canadian colonialism and the Coastal GasLink pipeline. This is the movie that riled the audience up and elicited cheers and calls from people throughout the film. It was a communal experience watching it. And when the filmmakers came out with three of the film’s resistance fighters, they got a standing ovation.
  • Best non-movie event was Reality Bites, a chance to sample foods from different restaurants in Columbia, as well as drinks. There was live music, as well.
  • Most unique experience was the March March, a parade of sorts that had just as many people joining in the parade as there were watching it. I was one of those people in the parade. I don’t really know why, but then again…why not?

Tips for First-Time Attendees

There are several different ticketing options for True/False and it can be overwhelming for a film festival first-timer. It’s good to know whether you want to attend just the films, films and the late-night stuff, or all the things. 

I was lucky enough to be a guest and that entitled me to have Silver Circle access to things – if you have the means, it’s the way to go for the festival! I was able to attend any of the events like Reality Bites, plus I had walk-up privileges to the three largest venues. I used that to see a film that was recommended to me at the festival, so I hadn’t made reservations for it. 

The Q&A following the screening of
“Yintah” Q&A at the Missouri Theatre

Tip: The best piece of advice I received was to leave room in your schedule to add movies you hear about throughout the weekend. You’ll be waiting in line or riding in the shuttle, and people just start sharing about the movies they liked best. 

Leading up to the festival, I received detailed instructions on how to reserve tickets. When you get to reserve tickets depends on the pass you purchased. Even if you aren’t able to reserve tickets, there’s still a good chance you can get in by waiting in the Q (that’s what they called it) on a space-available basis.

There are concerts and hang-outs scheduled late into the night during the festival. I was exhausted, both emotionally and physically, trekking around Columbia each day and never made it to any of the late-night festivities. I probably should’ve scheduled a nap time into my days, right?

Festival downtime: Exploring Columbia

With a population of more than 126,800, Columbia’s a city with a lot to offer. Like a typical college town, you’ll find a lot of popular restaurants and shops near the Mizzou campus. There’s even a film venue for True/False on campus.

My hotel wasn’t near all that, though, which was fine since there was a festival shuttle available. I stayed at Drury Plaza Hotel Columbia East, located just off Interstate 70. The location was great since I planned on exploring some state parks nearby.

True/False is a busy weekend, so you’re unlikely to take advantage of all the offerings at Drury, especially the daily Kickback at 5:30 p.m. (free drinks and food). But, you might wake up in time for the complimentary hot breakfast. The hotel also has an outdoor pool, but since it was early March, it didn’t matter much to me.

Anyway. On to things to do between movies and events.

Restaurants and things to do near the festival

When I decided to attend the True/False Film Festival, the first thing I did was text my friend Nicole, who lives in Columbia. I wanted her opinion on the best restaurants to try when I was there. Her recommendations were so good, I’m sharing them with you:

The view from the counter at Ernie's in Columbia, Missouri
Ernie’s Cafe and Steakhouse
  1. Broadway Brewery – easy to walk to from any of the venues and good food
  2. Also good for a healthy option is Nourish on Broadway (lunch only)
  3. Sycamore is delish on Broadway
  4. Barred Owl is further away on Broadway but a quick Uber and no problem
  5. Another awesome place you need to try for lunch is Beet Box. Not downtown but easy Uber…they have insane baked goods and killer lunch menu.
  6. Kampai in Alley A is downtown and amazing
  7. Pizza Tree is a window you walk up to for pizza that is legit yum.
  8. Acola is a great coffee house on north side of downtown (off beaten path) across from a super breakfast place Cafe Berlin.
  9. Ernie’s is a solid breakfast option as well.
  10. Ozark Mountain Biscuit is off the beaten path and while there swing by Logboat for a beer. (I’ll just add in here that Ozark Mountain Biscuit had a food truck stationed right by Missouri Theatre during the festival!).

So I took some of Nicole’s recommendations with some of my research and had a grand time eating my way through Columbia. Glad I packed my stretchy pants. 

Homemade Nutella Danish at BeetBox in Columbia, Missouri
Homemade Nutella Danish at Beet Box

For breakfast, I had the sugary goodness of Beet Box one morning. On the second morning, I bellied up to the counter at Ernie’s Cafe & Steakhouse and had endless cups of coffee along with pancakes and fruit. Ernie’s is a busy breakfast spot, and I was lucky to be traveling solo so I could sit at the counter without a wait.

For lunch, I went to Broadway Brewery one day for a kale caesar salad topped with grilled chicken. Sounds healthy, but I confess, I also ordered one of their beers. I have to support local, right?

I also had an absolutely amazing everything bagel topped with scallion cream cheese and lox at Goldie’s Bagels. Every time I was near Goldie’s, I noticed a line outside the door. This bagel shop is popular (plus, there isn’t a whole lot of seating).  

My favorite dinner was at Sycamore. The menu features locally-sourced food and drinks, a great wine list, and seasonal entrees. I ordered Shakshuka, and it was one of my favorite entrees of the weekend. 

A chocolate muffin and a to-go cup of coffee at Short Wave Coffee
A chocolate muffin at Shortwave Coffee

I had downtime between films, so I stopped at coffee shops to do a little work…and check Facebook. I enjoyed the lively atmosphere at Shortwave Coffee on Ninth Street, as well as excellent coffee and a chocolate muffin. I also visited the Instagrammable La Calle 8 Cafe for an iced caramel macchiato. 

I also confess to having a late-night snack. It was a little too cold for the recommend ice cream shop, Sparky’s, so I stopped by Hot Box Cookies on my way to the shuttle pick-up location. There’s nothing quite like a warm chocolate chip cookie with milk. 

Tip: There are no concessions at the film venues during the festival, so I recommend snacking throughout the day if you don’t have much time between films.

Shopping near the festival

I wanted to get a souvenir for myself and gifts for my kids, so I carved out a little time to shop. Some of the local shops I liked were two bookstores on Ninth Street, the used bookstore Yellow Dog Bookshop and Skylark Bookshop, as well as the nearby Speckled Frog Toys and Books and Bluestem Missouri Crafts.

The colorful interior of the used bookstore, Yellow Dog Bookshop, in downtown Columbia
Yellow Dog Bookshop

The festival has merchandise tables set up at venues, as well as the box office. I was overly optimistic about the weather and ended up buying myself a True/False beanie to keep warm at night. Totally worth it. 

What’s near Columbia

Since my first film screening of the festival didn’t start until mid-afternoon, I used the morning of my first full-day in Columbia to explore beyond the downtown area. My first stop was to fuel up for breakfast.

I carbo-loaded with a vengeance at Beet Box, a superb little Middle Eastern restaurant in the Arcade District of Columbia. The Nutella Danish caught my eye, but then I figured I probably needed something beyond the sugary treat for my planned hike. So I got a black cheddar biscuit. Yeah, I know. More carbs. I washed them down with a delicious coffee and then I was ready for my outdoor adventures.

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park is a short distance from downtown Columbia. There are miles and miles of trails, but I came to see one thing: The Devil’s Icebox. There’s a parking lot at the trailhead of The Devil’s Icebox Trail. 

Kim stands near a natural rock formation at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park
Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

As it turns out, said trail to the natural wonder is really really short. Like, I didn’t break a sweat or anything. You can, however, take stairs to view the rock bridge from different angles, so I did. I didn’t have a map to explore trails that jutted off of the walkway, so I stuck to what I knew.

From Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, I headed toward a stop just off Katy Trail State Park as it passes by Cooper’s Landing. The stop is mainly for those looking for oddities and weird roadside attractions (though this is a bit off-the-beaten-path, down a dirt road kind of roadside attraction). The stop was for BoatHenge

Not to be confused with Carhenge in Alliance, Neb., which is arguably a more impressive feat (says the native Nebraskan girl). BoatHenge is a collection of upright boats found in a yard a few steps from the Katy Trail. 

Kim leans against a boat at Boathenge, near Columbia, Missouri

I’m known for loving the eccentric folk art of the world, but even I was a little underwhelmed with Boathenge. The fact that I drove for 20 minutes to find it was a little laughable.


My first experience at the True/False Film Festival left an indelible mark on me. I went searching for “feel good” stories and found much more — emotional depth, cultural insights, and a newfound appreciation for the art of documentary filmmaking. The combination of the films, insightful Q&A sessions, and the communal joy of shared experiences has made me a fan of the festival.

The True/False Film Festival had a Barter Boat Trading Post for the community to swap items
Kim at the Barter Boat during Reality Bites

You don’t have to be a seasoned film critic, just a curious person willing to be challenged by non-fiction storytelling. There’s a good reason this festival continues to grow. It’s as entertaining as it is inspiring.

The trip wasn’t just for the cinema, though. I explored impressive eateries and unique shops, and enjoyed the hospitality of the community. If you’re considering attending True/False, here are my thoughts: Go with an open mind and an open heart. The stories will move you. The people will inspire you. And Columbia will welcome you.

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