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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, February-March 2005

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

When we were planning an issue devoted to women in documentary, we were prompted first by an article that appeared in the January 2004 issue—an editors roundtable, courtesy of Editors Guild magazine, that consisted entirely of men. We received our share of calls for a counterpart. Then, filmmaker/educator Nina Gilden Seavey sent us an unsolicited article about her personal experiences regarding motherhood and documentary filmmaking.

The seeds were planted.

The documentary community is one of the few in the entire media arts spectrum in which women play a prominent role both artistically and managerially. Look at the cable industry, and PBS, and across the pond to many of the European television stations: Over the past 20 years, women have carved out a niche in nonfiction programming and have helped to open up other opportunities for other women, both filmmakers and programmers. Compared to Hollywood, where a high-ranking female executive is still news, the nonfiction world is a haven.

So, here is our issue—not so much celebratory because a cause to celebrate would not only be belated and moot but somewhat, well, patronizing, being estrogenically challenged myself. But the significant and conspicuous dominance of women in nonfiction is cause to explore, and we have designated Andrea Van Hook, Belinda Baldwin and Anette Olsen to talk to key players in the US cable world, at PBS and in European television, respectively, about how being a woman has helped change the documentary landscape.

Now, most of the nonprofit media arts organizations that have played an important part in supporting documentary filmmaking—Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, Independent Feature Project, Film Arts Foundation and our own IDA, among others—are run by women. One such organization, Women Make Movies, was founded in 1972, in the heyday of the women's movement, to address the under-representation of women in the media industry. Some three decades later the organization thrives as not only a facilitator of production, promotion and exhibition of films by and about women, but also as a distributor. Skye Dent talks to Executive Director Debra Zimmerman.

On the filmmaking side, did you know that of the 270 members of the American Society of Cinematographers, only five are women? Bob Fisher talks to a few of the more prominent established and emerging cinematographers about their documentary work. And as mentioned above, we present a women editors roundtable, moderated by Lisa Leeman.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White