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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, April 2001

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the Oscars® issue. Winning an Academy Award in front of millions of viewers after years of toiling in relative obscurity can surely change one’s sleep patterns, if not one’s life. Just ask Susan Hadary (see cover), the producer -- with William Whiteford -- of last year’s winner for Best Documentary Short Subject, King Gimp, which profiles artist and writer Dan Keplinger and his valiant struggles to live a productive life despite cerebral palsy.

“We’ve been on speaking tours, continuous speaking engagements, continuous press events,” Hadary recounts. “And for Dan, he’s had outstanding success—one of his paintings was the subject of a Super Bowl commercial this year. There was a trust fund for him to receive the money from the sales of his paintings, which sell out all the time now. He receives commissions, he’s painting his heart out, and his hard work has taken off.”

“We basically spent the year trying to pay back a bit to the communities that have supported us,” Hadaray continues. “We’ve been speaking to disability groups, documentary groups, federal organizations—anyone who had any sort of tie-in to the documentary, and all these groups that have supported us through a lifetime of production. So it’s been a really beautiful year—a year of saying thank you.”

Not that not winning—or not being nominated—is any less rewarding. For sure, the year 2000 saw a bevy of remarkable docs: Dark Days (Marc Singer); Keep the River on Your Right (David Shapiro and Laurie Gwen Shapiro); Just, Melvin (James Ronald Whitney); and Benjamin Smoke (Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen) were just some of the works that burrowed into unexplored and often unsettling territory. So while we salute the stellar achievements of the Academy Award® nominees, let’s tip our hats to their fellow explorers in the quest for astonishing tales.

Telling your tale is one thing; pitching it to a panel of hungry but finicky distributors is another. In this issue, Katie Cadigan shares her first-hand experience at one of the leading pitch-marts, International Film Financing Conference (IFFCON).

We also take a look at docs on Hollywood, and how three of the leading cable producers of the genre—American Movie Classics, E! and Turner Classic Movies—distinguish themselves aesthetically and programmatically. Jason Lyon breaks it all down for us.

Last month, HBO, which aired King Gimp, took a giant leap forward in documentary programming. The signature series American Undercover was awarded a prime slot, immediately following the highly rated The Sopranos. This is a great vote of confidence from the cable network, not only in the tireless dedication of Sheila Nevins and her crew, but also in the documentary art form itself. Bob Fisher talks with Nevins about this coup and what it means to documentary programming at HBO.

Finally, “Tales from the Trenches” features Richard Roe, who shares the secrets of his successful do-it-yourself marketing and promotion campaign for Pop & Me, while in “Playback,” Ross McElwee recalls the intimate power of Ed Pincus’ Diaries.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White