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Notes from the Reel World, Summer 2021

By Rick Pérez

Dear Documentary Community, 

It has been about four months since I assumed the role of Executive Director of IDA. What excites me most about this position is the opportunity to help usher in a new era in the documentary field―a period committed to advocacy and equity, while continuing to embrace and celebrate all that we love about the form, the vast range of styles and perspectives, and its growing popularity with audiences around the world. 

For IDA, this means deepening the intent to further advance systemic change through all our programs. It informs how the grants team is currently reviewing finalists for the IDA Enterprise Documentary Fund, the Pare Lorentz Documentary Fund and the IDA+XRM Media Incubator. It drives the work of our burgeoning advocacy program and the inspiration for a series of listening sessions―with filmmakers, leaders of partner organizations, field architects, and funders—that will inform the development of a multi-year program to empower practitioners. It is motivating how we approach planning for this year’s IDA Awards and programming for Getting Real 2022—two future events that we are hoping to to be in-person gatherings. 

As societies grapple with the evolving coronavirus pandemic, reckon with systemic racism, withstand the weaponization of misinformation and attacks on valid scholarship like Critical Race Theory, the role of documentary filmmakers as truth-seekers and truth-tellers is more critical than ever. I am optimistic that the field is rising to this moment. Philanthropic funders are prioritizing support for more inclusive and equitable funding practices. The commercial sector has signaled a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. And public media is examining ways to build a more robust system of support for independent media-makers who are creating works critical to ensuring the vitality of our democratic society. 

But as we emerge from multiple social crises and manifest the work and resources necessary to create a more just and equitable documentary industry, we may be tempted to return to business as usual. Herein lies the challenge. As my predecessor Simon Kilmurry stated in this column just over a year ago, “We do not want to get back to normal, because normal was not working for Black and Brown communities.” It’s not normal for children to grow up without learning of the civil rights movement, it’s not normal for voices to be censored, and it’s not normal for an unarmed man to die under a policeman’s knee. That is not something we can aspire towards anymore.

For some members of our community, change and transition can be scary. I want to assure you that at IDA we believe that inclusion is expansive. We are committed to our roots and determined to grow by responding appropriately and proactively to the disparity that surrounds us. As I embark on this journey with you all, I want to encourage you to remain committed to the long-term effort for building a healthier documentary ecosystem that posits a more harmonious society. 


Richard Ray Pérez
Executive Director