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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Fall 2008

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Every four years in America, the principles of democracy are apotheosized in the presidential election campaign, where issues and imagery battle for primacy; the lives, careers and ideologies of candidates are vette;, and millions of dollars are raised and spent. A campaign is an epic drama, and as we enter the final act of this battle for the White House, we take stock of the role that documentary filmmakers have played in both contextualizing those candidates and campaigns in the larger milieus of art and civic discourse, and in venturing down those corridors where the media has feared to tread. As doc-makers have demonstrated, democracy in America is a work in progress-full of potential and promise, falling short at times, exceeding expectations at others.

In these pages, Taylor Segrest sits down with filmmaker Stefan Forbes about Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story; I talk with Larry Charles about his upcoming Religulous; and Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson examines the Obama phenomenon, with four docs either in release or in progress about the candidate.

But you can't ring in the new without extolling the old. With a PhD in government, filmmaker Paul Stekler has earned his stripes as an authority on the political campaign documentary, having made a few classics himself. He shares his thoughts on the genre and what makes it special. Also, Betsy A. McLane reviews The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary, a compendium of essays about the genre from an academic perspective. A number of documentary makers have actually worked with presidential candidates-Jeffrey Tuchman with both Bill and Hillary Clinton, the late Charles Guggenheim with Robert F. Kennedy and, most famously, Robert Drew with John F. Kennedy. Agnes Varnum, Barry Hampe and Ron Sutton have contributed respective pieces about these partnerships. In its 20-year history, PBS' American Experience series has aired exemplary profiles of US Presidents. Shelley Gabert talks to executive producer Mark Samels and filmmaker David Grubin about the president as dramatic persona. Finally, Arts Engine, the multifaceted nonprofit, celebrates ten years of producing social issue docs and fests; David Becker talks to founder Katy Chevigney about the organization's first decade.

As we energize our presence on the Web, the Fall 2008 issue will extend beyond print, with relevant e-zine articles and blogs and links about the election campaign. We may be a quarterly publication, but our commitment to serve the global documentary community as the foundation of IDA's communication apparatus is constant. In keeping with that, we are introducing columns here devoted to the latest DVD and theatrical releases.

Finally, I'd like to extend my hearty thanks to former executive director/publisher Sandra Ruch for her mentorship, wisdom and leadership. I greatly appreciate our symbiotic partnership, one that produced many great editions in our seven years of working together.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White