Letter from the Editor, September 2023
By Abby Sun
We are galvanized by the gains for writers (and the precious few documentarians) who are members of WGA made from the new tentative agreement with the AMPTP. However, we should not let down our guard: yesterday, over a dozen streaming services, including the behemoths of Netflix, Amazon, and Disney, announced that they formed a “Streaming Innovation Alliance” to lobby for US government policy that favors streamers. It is time that independent documentary filmmakers, film advocacy organizations, financiers, and those who are invested in a diverse media ecosystem band together to make sure that documentary films are considered in this seismic reordering of media consumption.
Amid these changes, this month at Documentary, we focused on how independent documentary filmmakers are sustaining their creative work. We launched “Making a Production,” Documentary's new strand of in-depth profiles featuring production companies that make critically-acclaimed nonfiction film and media in innovative ways. These pieces probe the creative decisions, financial structures, and talent development that sustain their work—in the process, revealing both infrastructural challenges and industry opportunities that exist for documentarians.
The first is an incredibly in-depth profile of the ethos, business, and movie “magic” behind Ben Proudfoot’s Breakwater Studio, written by Mark Jonathan Harris, the recently retired head of the documentary division of USC’s School of Cinematic Art. Breakwater is known for signature short film profiles of extraordinary individuals, which garnered the production company and the New York Times Op-Docs an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject last year. Look for more of these profiles to follow.
Three interviews with filmmakers focus on the unseen and render the subterranean: Dan Schindel interviews the artist duo Soda Jerk on their uncategorizable collage, Hello Dankness; Lauren Wissot discusses the research behind Kumjana Novakova’s Silence of Reason, which won the Human Rights Award at Sarajevo, a major festival stop in the Balkans every summer—and also gleans insights from Novakova, a curator and writer alongside her filmmaking work, on the shocking violence that disrupted festival screenings; and Catalina Combs tracked down co-directors Rachel Ramsay and James Erskine for a far-reaching conversation on Copa 71, which opened TIFF Docs.
For a true deep dive into the work of a single artist, we published my long conversation with Claire Simon, a French filmmaker whose latest film, Our Body, is a monumental study of women’s health, centered around a single Parisian public hospital. The conversation and screening were part of a two-part event last month, co-presented with Mezzanine, that spotlights the most consequential documentarians making work today.
Finally, we welcome Andrew Northrup as a contributor to Documentary with his insightful festival dispatch from Open City in London, highlighting how the festival carves out a space for more boundary-pushing work outside of more industrial broadcast standards.
As a reminder, Documentary will relaunch as a print magazine for Winter 2023 in early December, hitting newsstands on December 11. To receive the next issue, make sure you’ve joined IDA membership and update your address in the member portal.
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Thanks for your continued readership and support.
Until the next newsletter,