A documentary that debuted in 2012 at film festivals and private screenings featuring many Branson residents and entertainers is now available on the online streaming service Netflix.
The film, “We Always Lie to Strangers,” focuses on the Presley family, who opened the first theater on the strip, the Lennon family, and Joe and Tamra Tinoco of “The Magnificent Variety Show” who were looking for a new venue for their show.
In addition to performing families, the film also highlights the struggles of singer and single mother Elisha Conner as well as Chip Holderman, a gay performer who is also a single dad, living in the “buckle of the Bible belt.”
The film premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2012, and even got a screening in Branson last year.
According to Missouri Film Commission Chair Bill Lennon, who is also featured in the film alongside his famous siblings, the Lennon sisters, the film shows Branson to the world in a whole new light.
“I constantly hear that it could have been a documentary about anywhere else in the United States over the past five years,” Lennon said. “It reflects issues like poor people, homeless people, gay rights, family values and hard-working men and women — the issues that happen everywhere.”
As directors AJ Schnack and David Wilson and Producer Nathan Truesdell documented the area, they found, as one of their subjects noted, that “Branson seems very simplistic on the outside, like you could paint it in a dozen sentences. I think you’ll find the surface truth doesn’t match the actuality.”
Lennon said he felt there would most definitely be people who don’t enjoy the film because it is so honest and accurate.
“There is nothing in that movie that I see that was put on, and there is some irony in the movie being as honest as it is from beginning to end, especially with that title,” he said. “It is not all rainbows in this movie, it’s actually pretty accurate.”
While the title might not paint an accurate picture of the film itself, Lennon said it all started from a story he told the filmmakers during production.
In front of cameras, Lennon spoke about Vance Randolph, “one of the top three collectors of folklore in American history.” Lennon said Randolph collected more than 20,000 recordings of music, song lyrics, stories and superstitions over a 40-year period.
Many of Randolph’s most famous stories came from sitting around marketplaces, listening to the locals spin tall tales, Lennon said.
“Randolph wrote he was listening to a group of guys telling an outlandish story just loud enough for a ‘foreigner,’ as they called visitors, to hear,” Lennon said. “Once the man and his family left, Randolph asked what that was all about and the guys turned to him and said, ‘We always lie to strangers.’
“So a lot of the outlandish ideas about hillbillies came from the locals exaggerating and messing around with the city folks as they came in.”
The story of that encounter is featured in Randolph’s book “We Always Lie to Strangers,” and after hearing Lennon speak on it, the filmmakers opted to use it for the title.
The film is not rated, but there is a disclaimer stating “movie content may not be suitable for children.” There are some adult situations and adult language.