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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, February 2003

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Documentary filmmaking takes us to strange places, foreboding places, wondrous places. In the name of the truth we venture behind enemy lines, down rough-hewn, saturnine streets, and scariest of all—to some—into the stygian recesses of our own pasts.

Nature, wildlife and science documentary-making carries a special badge of honor. Imagine plumbing the depths of the ocean, deeper than any deep sea diver—let alone documentary filmmaker—has ever delved, with hundreds of pounds of equipment and just 12 minutes of film in the magazine, and significant vulnerability to severe decompression sickness. Famed underwater cinematographer Howard Hall did just that on behalf of MacGillivray-Freeman Films to document the beauty and splendor of the world's largest coral reefs—but more important, to alert us of the fragility and susceptibility of these ecosystems to global warming, coastal development and over-fishing. The result, Coral Reef Adventure, opens in IMAX theaters across the country this month. Ray Zone looks at this film  as an example of how Large Format documentaries, despite the enormous challenges and great expense in making them, can make a difference in educating audiences about important issues.

Elizabeth Blozan also looks at Coral Reef Adventure, as well as James Cameron's soon-to-be-released documentary, Ghosts of the Abyss, but from a technological angle.  Creating the proper equipment for underwater filmmaking is an art and a science. Because he and his crew were to venture an unprecedented 370 feet below sea level, Howard Hall needed to modify the housings for the cumbersome IMAX equipment to withstand the water-pressure, while Cameron and Vince Pace, a leading designer of underwater camera systems, created an elaborate 3D high-definition system for capturing the wreck of the Titanic.  

In his article on nature programming,  Michael Rose talks to underwater filmmaker Norbert Wu, whose Under Antarctic Ice premiered on PBS' Nature last month. Wu braved unforgiving conditions to capture the enchanting marine world beneath the ice, and for the first time, he, too, used high-def video to make his film. 

Rounding out the nature/wildlife skein,  Yasha Husain talks to two program directors from one funding agency that has helped to make many nature programs possible, including Coral Reef Adventure and Under Antarctic Ice: the National Science Foundation.

Not to be completely wild and natural this issue, we also hear from Jacques Bensimon, the chair of the National Film Board of Canada, who offers his vision for a new, improved Film Board in encouraging documentary production and reaching new audiences in innovative ways. And south of the Great White North, Tamara Krinsky talks to the creative talent behind PBS' newly revamped series Independent Lens, set for a relaunch this month.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White