Slog: How the True/False Festival Added Childcare to their Lineup

Paul Sturtz is Co-Conspirator (with David Wilson) of True/False, an “transformative, rambunctious, ecstatic” film festival and community in Columbia, Missouri. The festival is committed to nonfiction filmmaking and to environmental and social justice. In 2017, True/False partnered with Kickstarter to support childcare provision at the festival, and help create career sustainability for documentary-makers – this is how they are #RaisingFilms.

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Our story is quite simple. Early on we realized that festival-going was the candy at the end of a long, arduous filmmaking process. We designed True/False to be a meaningful payoff: an exuberant, joyful, long weekend for the creative artists we so admire. And let’s face it, some of the pleasures of a festival weekend are not compatible with little children in tow. And sometimes you can’t leave the buggers back home altogether. So we’ve dedicated ourselves increasingly to making it possible to bring your kids and to have a memorable experience.

We see part of the fest’s mission statement is to put in motion the best practices for the festival world. And in this case it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s long overdue. Women especially get the brunt of juggling parenting with their creative pursuits. Oftentimes they are the parent of first and last resort, and I’d guess that anytime a child gets sick, it’s mostly the mother who gets the call. If we want a fairer, more egalitarian community of men and women doing creative work, then we best account for this universal phenomenon of children. Kids seem to be everywhere!

Window markers are popular at The Cradle. The Cradle provides child care for filmmakers and core staff during the True/False Film Festival. (Photo by Frank Finley)

In the early years, our child care efforts were fairly ad hoc, with our events coordinator Johanna Cox and the education director Polina Malikin (my wife) organizing some child care for a few staff members (+ a few  guests) at Johanna’s house. Later it got a more central spot in the festival footprint at a local church.

Polina observes of our experiment that:

The availability of quality childcare has the power to change who gets to attend the fest, and their ability to interact & make connections; further, it validates & embraces the full identity of an artist/professional who is also a parent, rather than shaming or repressing the inconvenient “kid/ family parts.”

I am glad that our festival continues to work towards being more feminist, parent-friendly, inclusive, & life-affirming! Our hope is that this not only makes T/F more equitable & accessible, but inspires other festivals & film industry gatherings to support parents, especially mothers who traditionally bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities (happily, those stats are changing too). For anyone who has ever wanted more women to be represented in film, acknowledging women’s work as mothers & providing childcare is one concrete step towards that goal.

About a year and a half ago Liz Cook, the director of documentary film at Kickstarter, made us aware that they wanted to be engaged with transformative initiatives that could be deeply influential in the festival world. That’s very much in line with their status as a benefit (B) corporation. This year Kickstarter came on board as the sponsor of the child care program at a room at the Missouri United Methodist Church, just down the hall from one of our movie venues, The Picturehouse.

Holly Smith-Berry, our sponsorship coordinator, became so committed to it that she organized it on the ground along with The Ateliera studio inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy. By Friday of the fest, we had  nine children aged 11 months to 8-years old. We were told by many filmmakers including Jessica Edwards (Mavis director) that it was a godsend.

We plan to grow the program over the next few years and are dreaming of a consortium of festivals that commit to similar goals. Or, as Polina puts it:

Now to organize some collective childcare for the Resistance! (I am inspired and trying to emulate the work of ChiChiCo!).

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