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Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, October 1996

By Timothy Lyons

Dear Readers:

I'm thinking about Charles Foster Kane's "Declaration of Principles" when he takes over the Inquirer. "You don't wanna make any promises, Mr. Kane, you don't wanna keep," the faithful Bernstein Interjects.

As the new editor of the s m magazine-barely two weeks into the job as this issue goes to press—I'm in awe of the work performed by previous editor Diana Rico and the art direction by Ruth Ann Anderson. My hat's off to them for jobs well-done. Designer Nancy Hard s and I clearly have some large footwear to fill. (I'd doff my hat to Assistant Editor Tom White and Publisher Betsy McLane, but they're still here-so, they'll have to wait.)

My background is teaching about film: the history, theory, aesthetics—you know the type. Having been a faculty member and chairperson of Radio-TV-Film at Temple University back in the '70s, my commitment to documentary is strong and lasting. For many years, I edited the Journal for the University Film and Video Association, so I know something about publications, even membership associations.

But International Documentary is not a journal: it's a magazine (perhaps you noticed the change in wording just below the title on the cover and table of contents). That says to me what is found in these pages has to have some utility, some immediacy, so common interests and needs of the readership are served.

I don't see that the news sections of the magazine will change significant: according to Tom White, there's a "plethora" of things to report. But I hope the magazine will do more than simply in form. There are issues out there that you and I grapple with every day, and they're larger than finding out what grants are available, what film placed high in the latest festival, who's working with whom] on what.

Some Issues that intrigue me: just what is it that makes someone choose documentary or fiction? how are these people trained and who are the trainers? what's the difference between film and tape anyway, and does it really matter? can someone do news and still be called a documentarian? is the whole world of events and people fair fodder for any documentarian who can afford a camera, or is there some kind of ethical responsibility that comes with documenting a piece of someone's life and then showing it to strangers? None of these things have much to do with the daily necessities of making a living, I suppose, but they do concern me. As professionals, what we really do for a living profess, and my hope is to get documentarians to do a little professing in these pages. I'd like to engage the readers open dialogue about heritage and vision, about the private fears of being left behind by a technology that is moving simply too fast, about the seeming shift in economic current that makes Darwin's survival of the fittest mere child's play.

Some of these questions are embedded in the articles you'll read in this issue.

Heed what Bill Stamets says about the misleading characterization of a "student " film. Or what Tatiana Elmanovich is saying about the plight of indigenous people in a times of market economy change. Or what Elise Fried is saying about how funding a film may in fact determine the films form before it's even shot. Food for thought in these seemingly information pieces.

Within the next few issues, I'll try to sketch a plan that will touch on issues of the greatest concern to documentarians throughout the world. And to do that, I'II need to hear from you. If you're into e-mail, send a note to Once the IDA website is up and running, drop by to get the news even before the issue hits your mailbox.

Not so much a Declaration of Principles, I know... but a few promises I wanta keep.


Timothy J. Lyons