Letter from the Editor: Fall 2023
By Abby Sun
This issue returns Documentary Magazine to print after a 10-month pause. At first, the time off from printing allowed us to begin to reimagine a print periodical with such a strong legacy as this one. But a few months in, we needed the pause to locate a new printer after the closure of the magazine’s former printer, Boss Litho. How do we keep this magazine from becoming obsolete, like so many other print media? It is clear that this magazine must draw upon what makes documentary films so powerful—an inextricable connection to reality that renders truth, clarity, complexity, and artistry.
In a time of great turmoil facing independent documentary filmmakers, Documentary Magazine relaunches with a stronger focus on the business and craft of creative production. Our new strand “Making a Production” profiles extraordinary independent documentary production companies and the different ways those filmmakers are sustaining themselves; for the cover, A.E. Hunt stopped by Meerkat Media, a 13-member film production company that also happens to be a worker-owned cooperative. We are also republishing profiles on the Oscar-winning Breakwater Studios and Grain Media, which are more traditionally run companies contending with major shifts in our field. But even these deep dives don’t feel tethered enough to current events. As this issue goes to press, we are releasing it into a world rent asunder by the ongoing violence in Gaza. We hope for an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian aid to Gaza that adequately addresses the scale of need, and the release of all hostages. And we hear the pain of filmmakers calling film institutions to task for their silence.
Documentary filmmakers, though, have always persisted. Our cover feature is from Ishita Sengupta, whose reporting on the distribution prospects of films like Vinay Shukla’s While We Watched and other recent Indian nonfiction filmmakers at home is an extraordinarily detailed exposé on how commercial and governmental apparatuses can work together to censor political work. We also launch two new columns spotlighting the precarious working conditions of filmmakers. “Field Recordings,” first-person accounts from filmmakers at risk, opens with a galvanizing essay from Can Candan, a Turkish documentary filmmaker, beloved teacher, and scholar whose documentation of a university protest against government interference reminds us that academic purges only work with the participation our peers. “Producer’s Diary” gives us BTS peeks at the production ups-and-downs of independent filmmakers, starting with Theo Schear’s grant-funded indie series, Hard to Swallow.
To encourage discovery beyond awards-season hubbub, the “Screen Time” column now holds capsule-length reviews, written by film critics, on notable new releases, and our final cover feature is a critical essay from Winnie Wang on the uncanny and splashy use of the plot twist in Four Daughters. Finally, Documentary will continue to publish pieces advocating for more globally connected, distributed, and equitable forms of documentary production and circulation—continuing a formidable legacy left by Tom White and the magazine’s prior editors. We hope that you enjoy the features calling for a documentary code of ethics at labs and industry spaces, rethinking documentary history from a Latin American perspective, and a new development lab merging documentary film and theatrical production processes.
A huge thank you to Documentary’s new art director, Maria Hinds, who led a redesign of the print magazine. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have suggestions, notes, pitches, questions, jokes, feedback, or kind words. Everything is appreciated.
Thanks for your continued readership and support.
Until the next issue,
Editor, Documentary Magazine