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Letter from the Editor, January 2024

By Abby Sun

Dear Readers,

Last month, if you were an IDA member who opted into receiving print issues of Documentary, you received a copy of our redesigned print quarterly in the mail. In the last month, we’ve been slowly releasing these pieces online, with more to come in February. These pieces include the latest “Making a Production” profile, on Meerkat Media’s worker-owner cooperative structure and the brilliant work that is produced within this system; a feature essay on plot twists in Four Daughters, which was recently nominated for an Oscar, and other documentaries; Can Candan’s first-person account of government censorship and job insecurity for protesting for a self-governance of a university in Istanbul, in our “Field Recording” strand featuring filmmakers at risk; the latest installment of our irregular “Producer’s Diary” column, from writer and filmmaker Theo Schear, on the challenges of making indie documentary TV; and the cover feature, on the domestic distribution challenges of internationally-lauded documentaries from India.

Of course, in our corner of the film world, the biggest news was Sundance. Be on the lookout for Anthony Kaufman’s report on Sundance doc sales, coming tomorrow. In the meantime, I wrote a curtain raiser preview of docs to watch, and published Lauren Wissot’s interviews with the filmmakers of Agent of HappinessLook Into My Eyes, and The Mother of All Lies, which premiered at Cannes but made its stateside debut two weeks ago. Our Sundance coverage continues tomorrow and the following week, where we will be ruminating on the most daring work from Sundance and if the festival can adequately serve the needs of indie filmmakers—and whether any one single festival can.

We also continued our interviews with documentary industry gatekeepers and industry workers—with DCTV’s Firehouse Cinema programmer Dara Messinger, L.A. Times Short Docs commissioner Nani Walker, and BFI Doc Society Funds head Luke Moody. Deborah Stratman’s scintillating Last Things is opening theatrically in LA this week—catch up with her interview, too.

Published just today, Set Hernandez adapted a well-read email into an enlightening list of six tips for incorporating access into your film. This piece is a must-read for shifting expectations from considering access as a “challenge” to overcome, to valuing its poetic and aesthetic potential in all parts of the filmmaking process, including before and after post.

Finally, at the end of last year, we took a first stab toward reporting on the limitations of film festivals, with a long feature on DOC NYC. Contributing editor Anthony Kaufman interviewed two dozen industry insiders and filmmakers for the piece, reviewed contracts, and did some comparative analysis. It was a piece months in the making, and we will be tackling more pieces like this in the future. Our mandate at Documentary is to examine the business and the craft of our artform, which includes holding our beloved institutions up to the light and digging deeper than surface-level rhetoric.

If you appreciate the new editorial direction, drop us a line at We would welcome your suggestions, tips, notes, pitches, questions, jokes, feedback, or kind words. Everything is appreciated. 

Thanks for your continued readership and support. Our next print issue returns April 2024, and it will be Getting Real ’24-themed—featuring profiles and interviews with keynote speakers, and some of the pertinent ideas driving the think tank and laboratory mission of the conference. 

Until the next issue,

Abby Sun

Editor, Documentary Magazine