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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, March 2002

By Tom White

Let’s reflect on the context for Linda Buzzell and the 75 documentary filmmakers that she compelled to gather in a cafeteria in Los Angeles for the very first meeting of the International Documentary Association on February 6, 1982: the personal computer was barely in its infancy; Sony and Phillips would introduce the compact disc a few months later; video was on the rise as a shooting medium; the Internet was primarily a tool for the military and academia; the networks were beginning to soft-pedal on documentary/nonfiction programming as the cable industry was starting to grow; and PBS was under-representing the diversity of independent voices, a condition which would later in the decade be remedied somewhat through P.O.V., ITVS and the Minority Consortia. Documentary filmmakers were a lonely and misunderstood lot, without a documentary branch in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, without the kind of respect and renown accorded to artists in other disciplines. In other words, without a home.

IDA’s mission back then—“to promote nonfiction film and video, encourage and celebrate the documentary arts and sciences, and support the efforts of nonfiction film and video makers all over the world”—is, with a few cosmetic changes, IDA’s mission today. IDA has provided a home—sometimes a hovel, sometimes a palace, but always a home—for nonfiction media makers all over the world.

And this magazine, which began as a one-page, two-sided newsletter called Doco, has been there from the beginning—whether as a quarterly, a semi-monthly, or a monthly—staying true to the mission of the parent company. So, I’d like to salute my predecessors: Linda Buzzell, Linda Cirigliano, Audrey Coleman, Sandy Northrop, Denise Bigio, Nancy Wilkman, Diana Rico, the late Tim Lyons, Kathleen Fairweather and Betsy McLane. Thank you all, wherever you may be—especially the latter four, from whom I learned a great deal about all aspects of producing this publication. As I prepared this issue, I perused every single issue of International Documentary in its various incarnations, styles and sensibilities—a humbling experience, at times, as the weight of 20 years of history can be, but certainly an educational one.

So, here we are in 2002—at war, in recession, looking back and looking forward on where we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. Linda Buzzell fills us in on the early years of IDA; former IDA President Robert Guenette, in a reprint of his stirring speech that he delivered at the IDA Awards Gala in December, exhorts us on where we ought to be; former Executive Director Betsy McLane, whose tenure covered the 1990s, looks back on that dynamic decade of growth and growing pains; and Executive Director Sandra Ruch offers a glimpse into the possibilities for the next decade of nonfiction mediamaking.

Elsewhere in the issue, Michael Rose, one of the original members of IDA, looks into one relatively nascent form of distribution—digital cinema—while Mary Schaffer checks out a still-peaking medium: the DVD. These are present and future forms worth investigating, as is the past: Robert James reports from the World Congress of History Producers.

Onward to the next anniversary!


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White