True/False Volunteers Come Back, Year after Year

2023 Core members are invited on to the stage at the closing night reception. [photo credit: Jonathan Asher]

For the past twenty-one years, at the beginning of March, hundreds of documentary filmmakers and aficionados come to Columbia, Missouri to attend the True/False Film Festival. True/False is one of the very few film festivals that focuses on documentaries, as long-time volunteer, Josh Wright, pointed out.

“It’s wonderful that there is a festival that focuses on [documentaries],” Wright, who has been volunteering with the festival since 2007, said. “Documentaries are shifted to the side at other film festivals.”

Every year, the festival relies on the hard work of over one hundred volunteers, and, like Wright, many of them come back year after year. Robin Morrison, who has been on the Queens team (the folks in charge of the queue lines) for 13 years, said that volunteering with True/False is like going to summer camp.

“[The festival] is like summer camp because we get back together every year,” Morrison said. “I may not see them for a whole year or talk to them very much, but we get to get back together and have a great time and put on a fun party for a lot of people.”

And Morrison isn’t the only one who made the summer camp comparison. Tyler Parton, who has volunteered with the festival in various positions since 2016, said “Anytime I see Robin and all these people, it’s just like a really good sense of community. And I live in Kansas City now, so it’s like a nice way to come back to the Camp Columbia and like, you know, give back and see all my people.”

Like Parton, many volunteers come from out of town to volunteer. Kevin Bowman, who drives in every year from Illinois, told us a story about why he keeps coming back to the festival.

“This might sound like a convoluted answer, but it sums up what I love about [True/False] and its people,” Bowman said. “In 2018 when I returned to the festival after missing 2017 there was a mix up with my application and I was not offered a position as an AVC (Assistant Venue Captain) or Stage Manager. I realized this only [after] volunteer schedules came out a few weeks before the festival. I reached out about the mix-up hoping there would still be an available spot for me in one of those roles. I was told all the positions were filled but was encouraged to come be a part of the fest anyway. I let them know I really wished I could do that, but without the stipend from the AVC / SM position I would not be able to afford housing for the weekend.  One of the core staff called me later that same day and offered to let me stay in a guest room in her home so I could still be a part of the Festival. I accepted, and Thursday night worked my first volunteer shift in Ragtag. While on that shift the Manager of Venue Operations came over and let me know one of the Stage Managers in Missouri Theater had to drop at the last second for a family emergency and could I come take on that role.  I have been one of the Missouri Theater Stage Managers since that year.  If it had not been for that core staff member offering me space in her home, I would not have been there and would not have been able to witness [True/False] becoming such a huge part of my life.”

Robin Morrison, on the left in pink [photo credit: Jonathan Asher]

For many, the volunteering at the festival is a family affair. Bowman’s daughter, now a student at Mizzou, is a volunteer as well, and Morrison’s whole family comes out for the festival.

“My husband works for one of the original sponsors, 103 BXR radio station,” Morrison said. “My son is on the special ops team this year. My daughter is a venue captain at Ragtag. My daughter -in -law is on my queen team.”

With so many different teams available, there are volunteer opportunities for all. And all of the volunteers we spoke to agree that True/False is a really fun volunteer gig.  

“Any volunteer gig will be some kind of work…but when you’re doing True/False usually there’s a certain amount of play that’s just baked into it,” said Jonathan Asher, who has been volunteering on the photo team for eleven years. “There’s a lot of room for creativity and to figure out new ways to do things just on the fly and just come up with creative stuff just for the sake of doing creative stuff.”

“It’s like stepping through the closet door into Narnia,” said Morrison. “You step into this magical world for four days that is filled with heart and films and love and music and friends and laughter and joy. And you live there for four days straight. And post -fest depression is a real thing because the fest weekend is so much fun.”

Parton also expressed that the festival is a great opportunity to experience the festival for free, and to see films that you wouldn’t normally have access to. “I think the first year I volunteered I saw 13 films and just lived at Missouri Theatre.”

 While the heart and soul of True/False is all about celebrating documentary filmmaking, you can also see live music, art installations, and more.

Carolyn Magnuson, center in red [photo credit: Jonathan Asher]

“I really just love how Columbia totally changes,” said Kristina Bradley, who has volunteered on the Queens team for nine years. “It comes to life in a unique way. It brings so many different communities together and you know…I just really love what it brings out in this city. It’s great to see old friends that come back in town like just for this festival every year, and I just love all the art installations.”

With all these wonderful things about the festival, it is no wonder that people come back year after year to volunteer. Carolyn Magnuson, who Morrison described as “the OG Queen of Queens,” has been volunteering with the festival since the very beginning. Magnuson believes that the festival is very important, to both Columbia, and the documentary community at large.

“It brings so many people in. And it’s not just United States people. It’s people from all over the world, and that’s so exciting,” Magnuson said. “It’s renowned as one of the best film festivals for documentaries. And I think one of the things that makes it so great in that way is that there’s no competition. The filmmakers are not here to sell their film. They’re here to show it, talk about it, and share their experiences with other people. At the same time, they also get to intermingle with other documentary filmmakers. So it’s like a big convention of documentary filmmakers with no pressure.”

This year, True/False will take place from Thursday, February 29th – Sunday, March 3rd. To learn more, go to

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