Skip to main content

Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, December 2004

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Making documentaries, as we all know, is a difficult profession, one with more psychic,  spiritual and artistic rewards than monetary ones. The realities of paying the bills, supporting families and surviving prompt the need to cast one's net wider, expand one's portfolio, cast about for between-documentary, or even during-documentary, opportunities. And some of these opportunities have actually served to enhance one's documentary-making sensibilities. In this issue, we look at a few crossovers and sidelights that have kept documentary makers reasonably solvent, and have inspired them to take a look at what they're doing.

In the early days of documentary, the boundary between documentary film and documentary photography was a lot less pronounced than it is today. With the organization of the Film and Photo League during the Depression, such filmmakers as Ralph Steiner, Willard Van Dyke and Paul Strand—who got their starts in still photography—regularly shared ideas with Dorothy Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, Berenice Abbott and Walker Evans. Film and photography shared a common purpose: to document the harsh realities of the day. Seventy years later, the inclination to cross-pollinate is as much for aesthetic inquiry as it is for documentary exploration. Michael Galinsky, himself a still photographer and documentary filmmaker, talks to Jem Cohen, Bruce Weber, Zana Briski and Neil Leifer about migrating back and forth between two art forms—and professions.

Music video and commercial work have also kept the cash flowing for some documentary makers, but while fairly lucrative, those fields pose different challenges—answering to ad agencies, serving clients, being a hired gun. Filmmakers Doug Pray, Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger share their insights with Darianna Cardilli about what doc-makers can offer to the commercial world, and how working in that world has actually made them better filmmakers.

While most documentary makers and feature makers stick to their respective genres, or start out in documentary and move to features, many work in both areas. Michael Apted regularly crosses back and forth, while Penelope Spheeris occasionally revisits the documentary form. Stacy Peralta wrote a screenplay based in part on his documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, and will be directing his own screenplay of his recent hit Riding Giants. Elizabeth Blozan talks to all three filmmakers about how one art form feeds the other.

Another possible sidelight to making documentaries is writing a book about the documentaries that you make. Joe Berlinger did just that with METALLICA: This Monster Lives: The Inside Story of Some Kind of Monster. The book, published by St. Martin's Press, hits the stores this month, just in time for the holidays. Berlinger was kind enough to share an excerpt for this issue.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White