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Notes From the Reel World, Spring 2024

By Dominic Asmall Willsdon

In these first couple of months as IDA’s executive director, a few lines by the cultural thinker Paul Gilroy have been on my mind. They indicate, for me, something of the purpose of documentary filmmaking.

We are drawn to the realization that it is imperative to remain less interested in who or what we imagine ourselves to be, than in what we can do for one another both in today’s emergency conditions and in the grimmer circumstances that surely await us.

So much in society drives us to sameness. Our media separate us into mutually exclusive information spheres. They reflect what we think we know and reward us for how we feel. This is part of our predicament as a global society, as a planet. At its best, the art of documentary—not uniquely, but distinctively—enables us to encounter other realities. By making those realities aesthetically compelling, it demands that we do so, and then makes us ask ourselves what our responsibilities should be. In this way, documentary filmmakers are swimming against the current of contemporary culture and doing something necessary. We might not think in such terms every day, but deep down, this may be why we support documentary films.

I am meeting as many people as possible across the field, hearing about the needs and interests of filmmakers, and asking what IDA can do. When I ask why IDA matters, I get a range of answers. There are the financial and professional opportunities that IDA provides. There is IDA’s role in advocacy, both for filmmakers at risk and in relation to structural and policy issues. And there is IDA’s work to open and maintain a space for critical dialogue. 

Documentary Magazine and Getting Real are the two pillars of that work. It has been wonderful to see the relaunch of this magazine, and we are wholly committed to the direction that it is taking under the brilliant editorship of Abby Sun. I joined IDA toward the end of the planning for Getting Real ’24, and I am very impressed by the care, rigor, and creativity of the programming team—Abby, Meghan Monsour, and Lisa Valencia-Svensson—and the dedication of everyone working to produce the event. We look forward to welcoming you to Getting Real in person if you can be there or online if you cannot. This issue of Documentary Magazine is a thought-provoking companion to the conference. Moving forward, I expect that our publishing and our programming will become increasingly intertwined.

In the coming years, across all that IDA does, our task is to become as open and inclusive as we can be. IDA must be able to work with anyone, anywhere in the world, who cares about documentary filmmaking and its contribution to the well-being of everyone. Everyone. Documentary crosses boundaries, and shows us lives, worlds, that are not ours. In today’s emergency conditions, nothing is more important than enabling us to see one another across differences.