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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Spring 2015

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

As we were going to press, the great Albert Maysles passed away at 88, culminating a rich and expansive life and even more so, a brilliant and inspiring career. With his comrades at Drew Associates, he blew the doors open to a new way of seeing and experiencing the documentary form. He took us there, and we got to know the people behind both the most famous figures of the day and the ordinary strangers, who would become indelible characters before Maysles’ masterful camera work.

Maysles originally trained as a psychologist, and although he left that career path, the discipline never left him. He was a keen and patient listener, and above all, empathy was a driving principle in all his work. On his website, he left us with the following quote, so apt to his work and to his legacy: "As a documentarian I happily place my fate and faith in reality. It is my caretaker, the provider of subjects, themes, experiences—all endowed with the power of truth and the romance of discovery. And the closer I adhere to reality the more honest and authentic my tales. After all, the knowledge of the real world is exactly what we need to better understand and therefore possibly to love one another. It’s my way of making the world a better place."

While we plan our issues months in advance, it seemed strangely timely that Maysles’ passing would inform an issue devoted, in part, to ethics. As the GETTING REAL conference continues to drive IDA’s professional, programmatic and editorial direction, one of the strongest themes to have emerged from the fall conference was ethics—as borne out in the "Doing the Right Thing" and "We Come as Filmmakers" sessions.

The moderator of the "Doing the Right Thing" session, Pat Aufderheide, reflects on both some of the key revelations from that session and on the five years since the Center for Media & Social Impact, the American University-based organization of which she serves as director, published the study Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in Their Work.

Suz Curtis talks to filmmakers Juliana Brannum, Steve James and Jesse Moss about such issues as the relationship with their subjects and the communities they represent, what to film and what footage to include, and the negotiation between seeking a truth and staying true to your subjects.

Finally, ethical considerations abound in the nature and wildlife genre as well. Chris Palmer, director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University, shares with us his concerns—as well as a transgression of his own—about what has transpired on certain high-profile productions.

In the spirit of the Spring issue theme, we’ll be launching a column in the Summer issue in which we invite filmmakers to share an ethical quandary that they faced and how they dealt with it. Stay tuned!

Yours in actuality,

Thomas White