Dispatch from True/False—'The Illinois Parables'

A set of eleven experimental parables illuminate a state's history and anxieties.
Dispatch from True/False—'The Illinois Parables'
Image: Sundance Selects
'The Illinois Parables'

The True/False Film Festival, which focuses on the best in nonfiction filmmaking, took place March 3-6 in Columbia, Missouri. This week, we’ll be running a series of capsule reviews from the festival.

I don’t think most audiences have a more granular view of nonfiction films than the general designation “documentary”—for a long time, I certainly didn’t—but in fact, there’s as many types of nonfiction films as there are of nonfiction books: history, biography, memoir, journalism, criticism, and a lot of films that blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction, too.

The Illinois Parables is a haunting small film, just an hour long, that explores the historical events and anxieties that haunt the Illinois prairie. It’s not a documentary, and it’s not really history, either; it’s most like an essay, where the various threads and motifs gain meaning from being placed next to one another. Christianity Today has long been located in suburban Illinois (not far outside Chicago). But I’ve never lived there, visited infrequently, and mostly think of Sufjan Steven’s album 2005 Come on feel the Illinoise! when I think of the state—and yet even for me, the film was both educational and deeply affecting. Its images haven’t faded from my mind.

Director Deborah Stratman, who’s built a career in experimental filmmaking, structured the movie into eleven “parables” spaning the stories that shaped Illinois. Beginning with an aerial shot of the state, she eventually drops down onto its landscape, with flat areas punctuated by (what I assume are) man-made little hills, bumps that dot the landscape. Eventually we discover what some of these ...

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