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This year's True Life Fund selection is "Quest," a documentary based on the Rainey family from North Philadelphia.

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True Life Fund breaks the fourth wall

The fund gives True/False audiences a way to respond to what they see on screen.

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The entrance to the True/False Film Fest office is easy to miss. The property’s only identification is a single piece of paper taped to a lonely door nestled between Bluestem Missouri Crafts and the awning for Tellers.

It’s an old property. The stairs creak with each step, and there’s a musty smell similar to that of a grandparent’s house. Sitting in the hallway, you can hear everything that’s going on. There are people making calls in almost every room, doors being closed and keyboards being tapped on. It’s a modest building considering the work that’s being done inside.

After waiting a few minutes, I’m greeted by a woman with a short bob and a warm smile. She’s wearing a blue jacket that’s embellished with a familiar logo: a circle featuring a T and an F.

I follow her into her office, and we sit down in her two floral-print “conversation chairs.” She formally introduces herself as Allison Coffelt and hands me a brochure that reads: “Storytelling. Inspiration. Action.”

Coffelt is True/False’s education director and coordinator for the festival's True Life Fund.

“Film festivals often recognize filmmakers,” Coffelt said. “That’s wonderful and obviously deserved. However, one thing film festivals often don’t do, especially in the documentary world, is recognize the people who give their lives to the filmmaker.”

Since 2007, the True Life Fund has been a token of gratitude to the subjects of the films we see. It serves as a way to close the gap between the audience and the screen by answering the question, “What can I do?”

A lot of what the True Life Fund does couldn’t be accomplished without its decade-long partner, The Crossing.

Dave Cover, a senior teaching pastor at the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, was the first to suggest the partnership. After attending the festival in 2007, Cover saw the weekend as a great opportunity for the church to partner with the community and with the arts. Cover and David Wilson, the festival’s co-founder, have worked together ever since.

“We feel like the Bible calls Christians to pray for, work toward and sacrifice for the prosperity of the community we are in,” Cover said. “I think that artistic prosperity is a vital part of any community's prosperity.”

However, it’s not all about what the church can do for the festival. In an interview with Christianity Today, Cover discussed how the festival has grown the church.

“Nobody wants to engage with a church that thinks they're always right, that doesn't have anything to learn,” Cover said. “We become a more effective church when we can listen and have more intelligent conversations with people who believe very different things. I think the festival helps us do that.”

In the same interview, Wilson, a self-described “secular atheist,” discussed his atypical interaction with the church.

“I know we're different from other festivals, but it’s also very clear that The Crossing is different from other churches,” Wilson said. “I hope that there are churches like The Crossing in other cities, and that festivals that are a little bit like us can find them and connect. That openness to new ideas, that lack of fear—I think that confidence in your own beliefs gives you a willingness to listen to the beliefs of others. To know that it doesn't weaken your own beliefs to hear those things expressed.”

Over the years, The Crossing’s support of the festival has trickled down into smaller ministries.

Maggie Brothers, a sophomore at MU, has been a small group leader in the church’s middle school ministry for two years and is a huge fan of the festival. “Last year was my first year at True/False,” Brothers said. “I didn’t buy a pass or anything because I didn’t know much about it or if I wanted to do it until it rolled around. I went to my first film with [one of the ministry’s co-directors], Laura [Hagen], who had sent in the leader GroupMe that she had an extra ticket for a film at noon, so I skipped my Latin class to go. It was so fun, and I’m now addicted.” On top of offering extra tickets to its leaders, the ministry attends a showing of the True Life film as a group. The group sits together and has a discussion afterwards. “We’ve had events and discussions over a lot of hot-button topics,” Brothers said. “None of these have been the church telling us what to think. It’s always been more of a forum or a conversation.” This year’s True Life selection is Quest. The film follows Christopher “Quest” Rainey and the rest of his North Philadelphia family over the course of 10 years.

“What I like about Quest is that it gives most of us a look into a particular family that is very different than ours, and yet much of their family life is surprisingly the same,” Cover said. “I hope people have conversations about the similarities they see in this family, but also about the struggles that are significantly different from ours and why.”

Coffelt feels the same.

“In some ways, it’s easier to give money to a film like Sonita, where there’s a really clear heroic, narrative arc,” Coffelt said. “[Quest] has a really deep heroism that’s quieter. We so often see dysfunctional families on screen and this is just a miraculously functional family that can handle anything that’s thrown at them, and we see a lot of things thrown at them during in the film. It’s a really beautiful portrait of this family, but it’s certainly different than other True Life films in the past.”

The fund hopes to raise $25,000 for the Rainey family to accompany a grant of $15,000 that has been donated each year since 2012 through The Bertha Foundation. Donations can be made online at truelifefund.org, after each screening of the film during the festival or by texting any amount to 573-818-2151.

Before the festival, Rainey and the director of the film, Jonathan Olshefski, will be doing a small speaking tour to the four public high schools in Columbia where students will watch clips of the film and discuss relevant topics. The rest of the Rainey family will accompany them for each showing of the film during the festival.

Quest is being shown three times during the festival: Friday at 1:30 p.m. at the Missouri Theatre, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Jesse Auditorium and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at Jesse Auditorium.

Edited by Victoria Cheyne | vcheyne@themaneater.com

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