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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, November-December 2007

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Over the past quarter-century, the documentary community has witnessed and experienced monumental changes in every aspect, yielding both opportunities and challenges. Cable channels have expanded. Festivals and markets have mushroomed around the world. Educational opportunities have enriched the field. Globalization has spurred international partnerships and co-commissions. Digital technology has transformed documentary filmmaking. And distribution and exhibition continue to morph as platforms collapse and consolidate. A new generation of voices and visions has attracted new audiences for nonfiction media, and the documentary form has inspired a veritable industry.

With that in mind, we called upon some prominent players in the community to look at the past, present and future of the major points of growth that have served to revolutionize the genre as an art form and as a business. In our "Professional Perspectives" section, we offer you essays by Sheila Nevins of HBO, via writer Kathy McDonald, on the cabler's impact on the nonfiction form; Cara Mertes of the Sundance Institute, on the future of documentary storytelling; Michael Rabiger, former professor at Columbia College Chicago, on documentary education; Steven Okazaki, on his career as a documentary filmmaker; Greg MacGillivray of MacGillivray Freeman Films, on the nature/wildlife/science genre; Mark Samels of American Experience, on the history documentary; Ally Derks of IDFA, on festivals; Mark Urman of THINKFilm, on theatrical distribution; Peter Broderick of Paradigm Consulting, on independent distribution; and Mitchell Block of Direct Cinema, on the economics of the documentary industry over the past 25 years.

The core of IDA' 25th Anniversary celebration this year has been our poll of the Top 25 Best Documentaries, as voted on by our members. The resulting list reflects the dynamics of the genre, one with many dimensions, permutations and, well, genres. We thank IDA Board Member Nancy Willen for securing the services of some of the more prominent film critics to offer their insights on the Top Ten docs on the list-why they resonate, and why they're important to the evolution of the form. Thanks to Scott Foundas, Emanuel Levy, Stephen Farber, Kenneth Turan, Sheila Benson, Claudia Puig, John Anderson, David D'Arcy, David Ehrenstein and Bill Reed, as well as filmmaker George Butler for their contributions.

To round out our silver anniversary shindig, we present the Pare Lorentz Film Festival, to honor one of the early pioneers of the form and to celebrate his legacy. Lorentz was the first IDA Career Achievement Award winner, and this year marks the 10th anniversary of the IDA Pare Lorentz Award. Betsy A. McLane, IDA's Executive Director Emeritus, who has served on the Award's Blue Ribbon Committee since 1997, bridges the 50 years between Lorentz's The River and Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White