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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, November 2003

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

DVD—whether it stands for "digital video disc" or the more recent "digital versatile disc" to accommodate the uses of the medium beyond video—has, since its introduction to the consumer market in Japan in 1996 and the US in 1997, quickly staked out its frontier in the mediamaking universe. While the format's arguable precursors, laserdiscs and CD-ROMs, made a modest impact, at best, they laid the groundwork for what would be a veritable revolution in home entertainment, whether engaged on the TV monitor or the computer screen. 

For the documentary, the DVD has presented a range of opportunities and possibilities. The format has enabled new generations of cineastes to acquaint themselves with the classics, from Nanook of the North on. "A film school in a box" is what the pundits are saying about how these classic works of the documentary canon are being packaged and presented. Such pioneering filmmakers as Robert Drew, Albert Maysles and DA Pennebaker are reaping the benefits of both a vital revenue stream and the opportunity to re-examine and reassess their work and the trajectory their careers have taken.

And for once and future generations of doc makers, the DVD is an intrinsic dimension to the artistic process. The versatility of the DVD has enabled filmmakers to imagine new ways, beyond commentary and outtakes, to supplement the core product.

This magazine has looked at the DVD before (see the March 2002 issue), but here we explore some of the many different facets of this rapidly expanding medium. Kathleen Fairweather, who has toiled in various aspects of DVD production over the past four years, checks in with colleagues and contemporaries in the field about career opportunities for doc makers—and comes away with some surprising responses. Sarah Jo Marks looks at some of the novel ways in which key players are marketing and distributing DVDs that could be beneficial to the filmmaker. Patricia Troy profiles two of the more prominent DVD companies specializing in documentaries—Criterion and Docurama. New York-based attorney Robert Siegel offers some legal advice about the implications of the format with respect to rights and clearances, while Laurence Tietz, a DVD producer and programmer, presents a primer on publishing your documentary on DVD. And Stephanie Castillo shares her experience of using the format to package unused footage from a film that she made for PBS.

The DVD format will surely continue to change the ways movies are made and seen. We will continue to monitor this exciting development in the digital era, as classic documentaries find new lives and new audiences, and contemporary docs begin to show the same resurgence in the home entertainment market as they have in theatrical exhibition.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White