Skip to main content

Notes from the Reel World: The President's Column, November 2005

By Richard Propper

Dear IDA Members,

It has been a devastating fall. Hurricane Katrina, one of the most destructive hurricanes in a century, was followed in the same region by the strong, but not as severe, Hurricane Rita. Not long after these terrible natural disasters, some seasonal wildfires blazed out of control in Southern California. We consume these events on television and print like everyone else, but perhaps with a keen sense of "going after a larger story." Is someone or something to blame for these natural disasters? Was there deception involved in the movement of victims and supplies? Who can do a better job of fixing the many attendant problems?

Look at the documentaries broadcast shortly after the tsunami in Indonesia last year. While we may or may not know much about the politics of the clean-up and rebuilding, many of us have seen at least one program devoted to the causes of and damage inflicted by this tidal wave. While there may have been criticism of the clean-up endeavors, more coverage was devoted to this unique form of natural disaster.

I was contacted soon after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by filmmakers looking to do stories on those disasters. What surprised me was how quickly these filmmakers were running to cover a story that hadn't had time to fully develop. Documentary filmmakers are not news teams--and should not act like them. Local and national news coverage mainly involves sending in reporters to a "hot" situation, getting the fastest coverage and moving on to the next story.

Documentary filmmakers should not be "looking" for a story; they should go in knowing the story they want to cover. What the world expects from this sometimes-appreciated group is integrity. Our job is to methodically research, probe, ask and hopefully balance the mainstream media's reports with stories that have not yet been told, or look further into stories that have not been told very well.

What differentiates nonfiction filmmakers from news reporting is depth. Depth of a story can only come from time and thoughtful research. What stories will come from these natural disasters? What documentaries will we see in 2006 and 2007? The documentary filmmaking community should ask questions, and go where it believes the righteous stories are.

If you're in the Los Angeles area on December 9, you should treat yourself to a ticket to the IDA Awards Gala. For over 20 years, this wonderful event has served to celebrate the documentary form--and support the IDA. We need your help, and I hope to see you there.


Until next time,

Richard Propper
IDA President