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Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, November 1995

By Peter Stuart

How quickly time passes. It seems such a short while ago that I sat in the lobby of the Sofitel Hotel, having a drink with the winners of the 1994 IDA Awards as we watched some strange creatures out of the Hollywood landscape parade by in their Halloween costumes.

Suddenly it's October again, and the IDA Blue Ribbon Panel has just selected the winners of the 1995 awards. As often happens, a film the IDA is honoring has been the subject of controversy and rejection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. (Who are we to flaunt tradition?) This year the film is Crumb; a portrait of the gifted artist with a fascinating dysfunctional family. The other winners run the gamut of styles of documentary filmmaking. From Australia there's Eternity, a beautifully made film, with a startling story, that looks at times as if it had its roots in German expressionism. Another winner is The Devil Never SLeeps/El Diablo Nunca Duerme, an investigation of the unsolved death of a Mexican businessman, documented by a family member. FDR is an immaculate four-hour assemblage of stills, footage, and interviews that illuminate and deconstruct the life and times of Franklin D. Roosevelt. I found this film particularly interesting because it's also a look at a way of life that is rapidly disappearing from the American scene. (The first two hours present a portrait of FDR's mother that would make her a possible candidate for the Crumb family.) The documentary short award was given to 89 MM from Europe, a sparse, beautifully shot Polish film that can be read as a metaphor for post-Cold War Europe. Finally, the IDA/David L. Wolper Student Documentary Achievement Award was won by Out of His Mind, a sensitive, touching documentary of a young man's mental disintegration, filmed by his sister. I want to thank and congratulate the various IDA screening committees for sifting through the hundreds of entries, leaving us with such excellent choices.

As I write this, final plans are being made for the presentation of the awards, including the IDA Career Achievement Award to Marcel Ophuls and the IDA Preservation and Scholarship Award to Roger Mayer of Turner Entertainment Company. The awards ceremony and the buffet dinner that follows will take place at a new venue for the IDA, the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood, on October 27. (The program notes for the 11th Annual IDA Awards Gala start on page 16.) The following day, the winning films will be screened at our all-day Docu Fest at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The filmmakers will be available for questions and comments at the end of the evening. This will be the climax of three exhilarating days, as hundreds of filmmakers from around the world attend the events of the 2nd International Documentary Congress. The December/January issue of ID will contain a full report on the IDC2.

On another note, I'd like to share a rather depressing yet illuminating moment with you. At the request of a colleague, I served as a guest lecturer at a prestigious university in Los Angeles. The students were all eager, bright, budding filmmakers. During the course of the lecture I mentioned that the passage in a script we were discussing should be read in a laconic manner. From the glazed look I received from the class, I realized my request was entering their verbal twilight zone. When I asked how many of these college students comprehended the word laconic, two of the 20 raised their hands. So from now on, no more of this elitist stuff. I'll keep it down to two syllables.