Skip to main content

Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, January 2004

By Michael Donaldson

Dear IDA Members,

It's the end of an active year of continued changes and growth for the IDA. Our biggest accomplishment was getting InFACT, formerly DOCtober, on the road and into theaters across the country—in Del Mar, Seattle, Little Rock and Austin. This was a great way to build relationships with the filmmakers, exhibitors and film-going communities of those cities.

This has been a landmark year for documentaries at the box office, beginning with Bowling for Columbine and continuing with Winged Migration, Spellbound, Capturing the Friedmans, Step Into Liquid and Rivers and Tides. At press time, Tupac: Resurrection, just released nationally through Paramount and MTV Films, scored an astounding $4.7 million in the first weekend. Bowling for Columbine broke the regular screen record for box office gross, surpassing Woodstock, which held the record for 30 years! Winged Migration also passed Woodstock for the number two spot, while Spellbound became the fifth highest grossing documentary of all time. In the large format arena, MacGillivray-Freeman's Everest scaled a staggering $150 million, surpassing the previous record-holder, To Fly, also from MacGillivrary-Freeman.

This is not take anything away from the wonderful opportunities that television has provided for documentary filmmakers. But it is heartening that documentaries can command sizable audiences in theaters as well. The documentary community benefits, and so does the audience.

So, it's with great pleasure to close out this year with our Awards Gala, which forms the basis of the review of this year in documentaries. The Gala will be aired, in part, on the Sundance Channel in March 2004. We salute Sir David Attenborough, a true giant in natural history filmmaking, with our Career Achievement Award. And we honor Mel Stuart with the Pioneer Award. Mel's career in documentary filmmaking spans 50 years-almost as long as the history of television. We are especially grateful for his tireless efforts on behalf of the Documentary Credits Coalition. We also salute Michael Rabiger, who, from his position at Columbia College Chicago, has authored some of the seminal texts in the documentary literature canon—and has helped to transform documentary filmmaking education. Finally, the trustees of the Jacqueline Donnet Fund last year elected the IDA to honor "a filmmaker who by virtue of his or her early work shows extraordinary promise in exploring the possibilities of the nonfiction art form." We congratulate Alex Rivera with this honor.

Every year has gains and losses, and the documentary community—especially the IDA family—lost a true friend: Robert Guenette. Bob was one of my predecessors as IDA President, and was the first recipient of the Pioneer Award. His body of work was substantial, but what he gave back was even greater.



Michael C. Donaldson
IDA President