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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, January 2003 / December 2002

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

We close out our 20th anniversary year by celebrating the contributions of three giants in the documentary field. Ken Burns, the 2002 Career Achievement Award honoree, has helped to transform how we engage history. Along the way, Burns has expanded the audience for documentary, attracting not only millions of viewers, but, through ancillary sales of books and soundtracks, millions of readers and listeners.

Agnès Varda, the 2002 Pioneer Award recipient, ushered in a new way of using the camera as a means to more intimate human interaction. Her first film, La Pointe Courte (1956), predated the French New Wave movement, which would revolutionize international cinema. A photojournalist by training, she has migrated easily back and forth between the documentary and fiction forms. Lynne Littmann, who worked with Varda in the 1960s and has since maintained a friendship with her, offers a tribute.

The Imperial War Museum, based in the UK, houses one of the world’s most impressive archives of footage and still photographs from the major wars of the past century. Documentarians from around the world have made the pilgrimage to the archives in London and Manchester. Bob Fisher, a longtime proponent of film preservation, talks with Roger Smither, keeper of the archives, who accepts the 2002 Preservation and Scholarship Award on behalf of the museum.

To complement the awards section, we look at two programs that air on PBS in January. Two Towns of Jasper documents the horrific 1998 murder of African-American James Byrd at the hands of three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas. The filmmakers, Marco Williams, an African-American, and Whitney Dow, a White American, decided to make the film separately--Williams interviewing the black community of Jasper and Dow the white community. The result is a riveting testimony on the state of race relations in America. Kathy MacDonald talks to the filmmakers about their process.

On January 6, 1973, PBS premiered the first of a 12-episode series about a family based in Santa Barbara, California. The American public, long inured to the pristine prototypes that television served up, didn’t quite know what to make of the Loud family. Millions tuned in to An American Family week after week, and the Louds became unwitting celebrities. And no one struggled with the double-edged cross of celebrity more than the oldest son, Lance. Thirty years after making the series, Alan and Susan Raymond return with Lance Loud!: A Death in An American Family, which documents Lance’s last days as he looks back on the strange impact the series had on his life. Laura Almo talks to the Raymonds about bringing closure to An American Family, and the reality TV that it spawned.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White