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Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, July 2003

By Michael Donaldson

Dear IDA Members:

I report to you, as I have during the past few springs, from the Cannes Film Festival—and a very different Cannes it is for the documentary community. Particularly noticeable is the changed attitude at the March de Film, the film market that takes place at the same time as the festival.

A record number of documentaries were represented at and screened throughout the market. Perhaps it was because of Michael Moore's success last year with a special jury prize for Bowling for Columbine and its subsequent success at the box office. Perhaps it was because of the increasing number of theater admissions for documentaries. Perhaps it was because of the rising awareness of documentaries in general, as more and more people realize that truth is truly more interesting than fiction and a story well told is a story well told. The bottom line is a keen interest in documentaries, from those whose focus is the bottom line.

To be specific, 49 documentaries were represented by registered sales agents. There were 47 screenings of documentaries—too many to see, but I can tell you that Oliver Stone's two films, Comandante and Persona non Grata , were among his best work. Like Moore, Stone has a strong point of view at the start of a project. His opinion shapes his films. And as with Moore, Stone's  filmmaking is superlative.

The festival featured several documentaries as official selections. Richard Schickel's film Charlie: The Life and Art of Charlie Chaplin was widely talked about. Nanni Moretti's The Last Customer, about a New York Italian deli, was also well received. And Wim Wenders launched The Soul of a Man, which is part of the upcoming PBS series The Blues. In addition, Bright Leaves by Ross McElwee and Souvenir Album by d'Henri-Francois Imbert were both selected for the Directors Fortnight. All in all, a very good showing for documentaries.

At press time, the only other documentary I was able to see was Errol Morris' The Fog of War. It will be distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, the same folks who are doing such a bang-up job on Jacques Perrin's  Winged Migration. Sony is planning a fall release for Morris' provocative  documentary, which is based on 14 hours of interviews with 85-year-old Robert McNamara, who reflects on his life of war-making. No matter how you feel about McNamara, this film will make you question your strongest held beliefs about peace and war and the means to achieve each.

Documentary filmmakers from around the world were invited to a party sponsored by Eastman Kodak and the IDA in the Kodak tent on the beach. For over two hours, documentaries were the sole focus, with folks from dozens of countries swapping cards, telling stories and thoroughly enjoying Kodak hospitality.



Michael C. Donaldson
IDA Board President