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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, December 2003

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

National Geographic's flagship program, Explorer, has gone through as many permutations as it has homes. Now part of MSNBC as Ultimate Explorer, the series has this year seen a few high-profile episodes related to the current war in Iraq. National Geographic was pressured to fire correspondent Peter Arnett for his critical remarks about the war. But the channel redeemed itself, through filmmaker Jason Williams, who, in the aftermath of the US invasion of Baghdad, documented the search for—and eventual discovery of—the lost treasure of the ancient civilization of Nimrud. Michael Rose talks to Williams, along with correspondents Lisa Ling and Mirea Mayor and executive producer David Royle, about the prospects for this revamped series.

National Geographic has been poking around theatrical exhibition over the past year or so, as have other players in the broadcast arena. Some have developed theatrical wings for this very purpose, others have partnered with established theatrical distributors. Elizabeth Blozan talks with representatives from three companies—two, Discovery and HBO, from cable, and one, NOVA, from public television—about the prospects for this arena and whether the great box office boom of 2002-2003 bodes well for streamlining the process for broadcasters and filmmakers.

A small handful of theatrical exhibitors also have been taking films on the road. Tom Powers talks to Roxie Releasing, which grew out of the fabled Roxie Cinema in San Francisco, about how it has fared with such hits as Thomas Riedelsheimer's Rivers and Tides and such misses as Nick Broomfield's Biggie and Tupac.

First Run/Icarus Films celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Primarily a non-theatrical distributor, the company has made a name for itself with its 875-title catalogue of provocative, socially conscious works. Seth Magalaner talks with co-founder Jonathan Miller about this first quarter-century. 

And in this issue we travel to China and Cuba, respectively. Somi Roy reports on a unique international filmmakers' exchange, in which representatives from Appalshop, the Kentucky-based media collective, traveled to the southwest provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan for three weeks of screenings, presentations and dialogues with filmmakers from that region. Roy, who organized the exchange, discusses the obvious differences—and surprising similarities—between the Appalachian and southwest China communities and cultures, and how this sort of regional exchange served to underscore common concerns in the face of globalization and consolidation.

Lisa Marr traveled to Cuba under quite different circumstances—for the First International Festival of No-Budget Cinema, in the coastal town of Gibara. In her diary account of this wacky and wonderful time, she shares the sights and sounds of this nation in perpetual transition, and offers a glimpse into the documentary-making community there.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White