The True/False Film Festival serves the cream of the documentary crop.

Too Good to Be True 

The True/False Film Festival serves the cream of the documentary crop.

When Paul Sturtz and David Wilson conceived their True/False Film Festival, which debuted last February in Columbia, Missouri, their ultimate ambition was to become the premier documentary film festival in the Midwest.

Mission accomplished.

So impeccable were the programming and execution of the inaugural True/False that Sturtz and Wilson are already talking about spin-off festivals on the coasts. For now, though, they'll content themselves with a killer lineup that includes the Midwest premiere of Murderball, the story of a group of quadriplegic rugby players that earned the Audience Award at Sundance last month.

Three of this year's best offerings:

I Like Killing Flies This one-man effort by Matt Mahurin -- a music-video director and Time magazine illustrator -- begins with the potbellied Shopsin walking toward his corner restaurant with a white motorcycle helmet on. He opens the graffiti-splattered garage door leading into the joint, enters its kitchen and embarks upon an unadulterated, f-bomb-tinged philosophical monologue. The chaos is the perfect introduction to a culinary Karl Rove who relishes 86-ing new customers and who features, at his 35-year-old eatery (which is about to lose its lease), a fusion-food menu of nearly 1,000 dishes. Every time you think you've got Shopsin pegged as a teddy bear at heart, he reduces one of his family members to near-tears with an unprovoked, profanity-laced tirade. And when you think you've got him pegged as a combustible war general, his grace behind the grill borders on balletic. Mahurin's deliberately choppy, colorful style of chronicling this action transforms Shopsin's various creations into objects of gastronomic lust. At the Missouri Theatre at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, February 26. Mahurin will attend the screening.

Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family The Hoop Dreams of bisexual love-triangle documentaries, Susan Kaplan's carefully rendered account of romantic triplicate Sam Cagnina, Steven Margolin and Samantha Singh is essentially three parts love story and one part heartbreak. Filmed over the course of nearly a decade in New York City, the film begins with a summation of how gay couple Cagnina and Margolin become bent on finding a committed female to share their lust, love, commitment and, eventually, children. Late in the 1980s, they meet Singh, a beautiful, struggling Indian actress in her hyperexperimental twenties. The first half of the film bounces along as a cheery account of how gloriously this three-way "marriage" works. (Singh technically marries only Cagnina, with the three later staging their own ceremony to cement the bond.) They share a bed and a thriving chiropractic-and-massage-therapy salon, and they have a child. Somewhere along the way, we learn that Margolin has never been totally comfortable with his homosexuality. On the eve of the birth of the trio's second child, he leaves the relationship. The film could be held up by open-minded progressives and fundamentalist Christians alike as Exhibit A for why nontraditional, less-than-hetero unions do and don't work. At the Missouri Theatre at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, February 26. Cagnina and Singh will attend the screening.

Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt It's true that only so much can be done with grainy archival footage and a deceased subject, but cinematographer Lee Daniel and director Margaret Brown show here that the results can be haunting. The late Van Zandt, a Southern-fried Dylan, had artistic credibility but almost no fame, other than a rabid cult following that included Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Steve Earle (all featured in the film). Van Zandt, who died at 52 of heart failure, was a manic-depressive mind-fuck, as calm and brilliant as he was self-destructive and alcoholic. Fittingly, he gets a film to match. The closing line, delivered by Texas musician and close friend Guy Clark, who reminisces about Townes over the course of the film while getting hammered on tequila, is an instant classic. At the Blue Note at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 26. Brown and Daniel will attend the screening.

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