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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Fall 2017

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Thanks to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, IDA is well into Year One of its Enterprise Documentary Fund, a program designed primarily to provide development and production support for projects that infuse journalistic practices with documentary storytelling. But beyond the grants program, Fund Director Carrie Lozano has assembled a formidable advisory committee of representatives from law, academia and media to provide guidance and counsel to our community.

Carrie worked closely with the Documentary magazine team to develop ideas for a series of interrelated articles that would examine the intersections of documentary filmmaking and journalistic practice and offer a baseline of guidelines about the responsibilities, risks and ethics of journalistic storytelling. 

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) enables researchers to request access to federal agency records—but, as with any government bureaucracy, the process to actually gain this access is a labyrinthine one. Katie Townsend and Adam A. Marshall, both attorneys at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, offer a primer for working through the process and understanding your rights with respect to FOIA. Frontline, the venerable PBS series, has been lauded as a beacon for broadcast journalism and as an early adaptor to both online ventures and VR projects. Over the past decade or so, such publication giants as The New York Times and The New Yorker have flexed their muscles in the streaming space, working with documentary filmmakers to produce compelling works of journalistic storytelling. For some filmmakers, these partnerships have served as bracing introductions to the rigorous processes of fact-checking. Nayantara Roy talks to fact-checkers from The New Yorker, The New York Times Op-Docs and Frontline, as well as to filmmakers Jesse Moss and Lauren Rosenfeld Capps, about what this process entails.

Getting the story often involves journeying into unknown territory. Some of the best documentary storytelling comes from those makers who take the time to get to know communities, developing a deep trust and empathy and maintaining relationships long after the distribution stage. Conversely, there is what is known as "extractive storytelling," in which getting the story is the driving force. Lauren Wissot sits down with five filmmakers who proffer their wisdom about avoiding extractive storytelling.

Sometimes the territory is so hostile for filmmakers and journalists, you need to implement what writer Suz Curtis dubs the three Ps: Preparation, Protection and Patience. Filmmakers Talal Derki and Singeli Agnew share their experiences in working in high-risk areas.

Finally, IDA will be collaborating with the DC-based Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival this fall. Co-Director Sky Sitney offers her insights on the journalism/documentary convergence with Akiva Gottlieb.

Yours in actuality,

Tom White