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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Fall 2011

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Artistic achievement is predicated in large part on collaboration and chemistry--especially in the media and performing arts, where gesamtkunstwerk is the guiding principle. The documentary form has always succeeded as both the whole and the sum of its parts. By nature of its low-budget, bare-bones infrastructure, the roles are invariably interlocking and cross-pollinating: The director might also be the DP, editor or producer; the producer might lend a hand in these areas too; the writer, editor and composer might be one in the same person.

While a theme like The Craft might not embrace a timely subject, it's always prudent to take stock of where we are as filmmakers and hear from some leading lights in the field about how they do the things they do. Rather than stage a series of roundtables, we opted to look at each aspect of the craft in a different way--not necessarily comprehensive or definitive, but different.

For directing, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady offer a de facto primer, drawing from their experience of creating their impressive canon. Eddie Schmidt shares his journey about how he learned to embrace his inner producer. We interview Leonard Retel Helmrich, director/DP of Position Among the Stars, the concluding work of his trilogy about the struggles and hopes of an Indonesian family amid the tumultuous socio-political changes that country has undergone in the past decade. Helmrich has pioneered a unique school of filming that he calls Single Shot Cinema, which emphasizes camera movement and long takes.

We also asked two participants in this summer's Sundance Composers + Documentary Lab--director Angad Bhalla and composer Ronen Landa--to reflect on what they learned and experienced, and how it all impacted their work. Taylor Segrest recruited a cross-section of fellow scribes to wade through the morass of just how writing is defined in documentary, how it's parsed out vis à vis editing and directing, and how the Writers Guild and Writers Guild Awards recipients view all this.

Which leads us to editing. Working with archival footage is just one aspect of storytelling, but what the respective makers of Senna, The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 and Magic Trip have done with the footage is remarkable--in bringing a character to full-throttled, cinematic life, for the first, and, for the latter two, exhuming documentation from a period in recent American history that is so different and bold and honest that it inspires the viewer to rethink where we've been and where we are. Michael Rose talks with the respective editors about how they eschewed the tropes and conventions of the biography, sports and history genres and delivered new ways of seeing into the life of things.

Finally, I'd like to extend my hearty thanks to Tamara Krinsky, who, after ten years of exemplary service and creative contributions to the growth and character of both the magazine and website, has stepped down. We wish her all the best.

Yours in actuality,


Thomas White