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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, May 2005

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

What a month of media madness has been March 2005!

Just as CBS News anchor Dan Rather signed off for the final time, Docurama released The Edward R. Murrow Collection, a four-DVD set that commemorates the work of the legendary reporter, and Discovery Times Channel aired one of Murrow's finest reports, the 1960 classic Harvest of Shame. Not to equate Rather with Murrow, but the latter, with his singular style and his impact on nonfiction television programming, helped make possible the emergence of the former. 

But now, we get faux news reports—not from The Daily Show, but from the White House and a host of government agencies (see "Notes from the Real World"). And with propaganda emanating from the White House, it nonetheless came as a surprise the report in The New York Times that the religious right has expanded its sphere of influence to IMAX theaters in the South and in Texas, where programmers are caving in to protests from test audiences about the alleged "evolutionary overtones" of such large format documentaries as Galápagos, Cosmic Voyage and Volcanoes of the Deep. If the religious extremists—a small, but very vocal, organized and well-funded minority—can impact documentary exhibition in a significant market in the US, imagine the impact their rabble-rousing could have on the funding and production of science documentaries. We will be taking a longer view of this troubling development in a future issue.

Finally, the kudos for Bobby Houston and Robert Hudson for their Oscar-winning documentary short Mighty Times: The Children's March have been muted somewhat by calls from elsewhere in the documentary community to look into re-enactments and re-creations and how they're presented. As reported in The New York Times, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has responded to these calls and will undertake an investigation of its rules regarding this particular area. In past issues, we have looked at the documentary form and those who are pushing its parameters. Perhaps Houston and Hudson's strategy of shooting re-enactments with period cameras and film stock and seamlessly editing those sequences with actual archival footage goes beyond an innovative trompe d'oeil exercise to what the filmmakers' critics are labeling as deception. But then, what about The Story of the Weeping Camel, which was honored at festivals around the world for best documentary and best feature?

As the documentary form continues to mutate, hybridize and morph, we will continue to monitor this evolution.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White