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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Fall 2009

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Recessionary times like these can spur one to consider going back to school to hibernate in the conclave of academia for a couple of years and re-emerge, intent on tackling the decidedly un-Fitzgeraldian second act of one's career, in a more promising economic climate.

But whatever the impetus to go to school, there are things to consider. In past issues, this magazine has looked at film school programs and other options; here we examine the very idea of going to school--not necessarily to dismiss it out of hand altogether, mind you, but to provide you with a framework with which to weigh the possibilities.

Mitchell Block, who is compiling a comprehensive directory of documentary training programs for the IDA website, takes a sobering look at the state of the starting gate to one's documentary career and offers sound advice to those who are contemplating film school. Sheila Curran Bernard, as an author and teacher of documentary studies, knows her way around the nonfiction community, and offers a primer of how to navigate your way through the post-film school real world in search of your first job.

There are plenty of documentary filmmakers who have forged successful careers without having gone to film school--whether through their undergraduate liberal arts education or their first careers that, on the surface, had little to do with filmmaking or their mentors who schooled them in the field and in the editing room. Beige Luciano-Adams talks to a handful of docmakers from a variety of generations and backgrounds about how they went the "film school of hard knocks" route.  

Academia itself offers an additional revenue source for documentary makers with a passion and talent for teaching. But balancing these two livelihoods can be a challenge. Laura Almo talks to various teacher/doc-makers about how they juggle between the classroom and the edit room. And it always helps to go back to school--if just for one week--to immerse yourself in an intensive intellectual environment and remind you of why you chose this artistic discipline in the first place. The Flaherty Seminar, an annual summertime convocation of filmmakers and academics, does the trick, and Richard Shpuntoff reports from this year's edition.

Finally, film school isn't the only venue for the study of documentary. Regina Austin, a professor at University of Pennsylvania Law School, developed a course called Documentaries and the Law, which teaches both the study and production of documentaries as part of legal training. Tamara Krinsky talked to Professor Austin about the specifics of the course.

"It's not what you know; it's who you know" is an oft-used adage in many fields. And while social networking is vital in the documentary career, never underestimate the power of education, knowledge and skill sets in getting you where you need to go.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White