Inspired by the disappearance of a bank teller named Francis Wetherbee in Smithville, Texas, The Teller and the Truth combines elements of documentary and narrative storytelling to explore various possibilities that could explain her fate.
The facts of the story have all the elements of a good whodunit: a bank robbery, a mysterious fiancé, Wetherbee's disappearance, and a dead end: In 1974, her car was found submerged in a nearby river with no clues left behind.
In the film, various characters/Smithville residents offer their recollections of Wetherbee and pose theories about what could have happened, but the truth is that no one knows (or can know) exactly what this enigmatic young woman was thinking, feeling, and doing 40 years ago.
Written and directed by Austinite Andrew Shapter, The Teller and the Truth relies on actors’ re-creations, footage of the landscape, photographs, and music as it develops into a dreamy meditation on life, love, and loss. An admirer of Terrence Malick and the director of two previous music-oriented documentaries, Shapter crafts a one-of-a-kind film that relies on zero dialogue from its subjects, played by Leilani Galvan and Russell Gustave Ochoa. Tying everything together is an original score by Carl Thiel, which gives the film an otherworldly feel and allows truth and fiction to nearly seamlessly intertwine.
Filmed over the course of six years and using footage captured in Texas, California, France, and India, the film is both focused and sprawling. It’s also melancholic but at the same time hopeful – a dynamic that mirrors the unfolding events of the director’s own life. During the creation of the film, Shapter was diagnosed with cancer and was forced to take a break while he underwent treatment (see “Pause/Play,” Oct. 10, 2014, for more on that). Two years later after a successful recovery, he was able to resume his thoughtful and creative examination of Wetherbee's memory.
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