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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, July / August 2001

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

In concert with IDA’s much-anticipated summertime event, we look back on the making of one of the great rock’n’roll docs, D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back, and how it has figured in Pennebaker’s illustrious career.

We also go back in time, well before the 1960s, to the Roman Empire, the latest subject in Devillier Donegan Enterprises’ well-conceived strand series, Empires. Stephanie Mardesich profiles this and other episodes in this novel way of presenting and interpreting history.

Once you’ve made your documentary, how do you get it seen? Well, we look into two areas—festivals and distribution—that often go hand in hand.

The number of festivals—indeed, documentary festivals—has mushroomed over the past ten years. Every major city has at least one; our hometown of Los Angeles has 12 at last count. With Toronto’s Hot Docs! film festival as the context, Michelle Mason looks at the pros and cons of festivals from the points of view of filmmakers who have toured the festival circuit, distributors for whom festivals are a primary destination for finding new work, and festival programmers and directors. Diane Estelle Vicari presents a case study of a start-up festival—the Durango Film Festival in Colorado—and the challenges it faced in entering and defining itself in an already crowded market. Rounding out the festival coverage, we invited filmmaker Kevin McKiernan to share with us a few outtakes from his year on the festival circuit with his film Good Kurds, Bad Kurds.

While we certainly can’t begin to cover the vast spectrum of distributors around the world, the intent in this issue is to give you a general idea of what to look for and what to expect when shopping around for a distributor. Dividing up the workload, Elizabeth Sheldon takes on international broadcast distribution, Rob Stone looks at theatrical distribution and David Callahan examines the advantages and disadvantages of going the self-distribution route. Again, the distributors interviewed for these articles represent a small percentage of the total market. For a better idea of the distribution universe, go to

And tune in next issue when we explore the world of non-theatrical distribution. Also next issue, we take on nature and wildlife documentaries, a genre that’s high on the shopping lists of most distributors. Have a good summer.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White