July 1, 2002

Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, July / August 2002

The life of the documentary, we all hope, extends well beyond the final cut, festival circuit, theatrical run, television broadcast and nontheatrical distribution. Documentaries can, and do, have the power to change policies, attitudes, opinions—and lives. It takes a well-conceived strategy and a strong infrastructure of filmmakers, advisors, distributors and film subjects who are willing and able to take their documentaries to targeted audiences—wherever they may be—and generate discussion and dialogue.

In this issue, we look at a few recent examples of projects that were conceived and designed to instigate, provoke and inspire. Steps for the Future is a massive endeavor—a package of some 40 media works addressing the AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa. Over 20 countries banded together to fund, produce and distribute these films around the world but, most crucially, to the people for, by and about whom Steps for the Future was made. A sizable chunk of the Steps budget was earmarked for regional distribution, which includes recruiting HIV/AIDS educators, versioning and dubbing the films into regional dialects, developing educational materials and screening the films in the most remote areas of Southern Africa.

Over the past 18 months, Sandi Simcha DuBowski has taken his film Trembling Before G-D around the world. The film, which profiles gays and lesbians in the Orthodox Jewish faith, has evolved into something bigger—“not just a movie, but a movement,” as DuBowski puts it. Even before his long-running theatrical run with New Yorker Films, DuBowski contacted community groups, forged interfaith and interorientation dialogues and rendered screenings into full-fledged convocations of filmmakers, participants in the film and, most important, audience members. New Yorker Films recognized that the film would take on this life from the beginning: “This film must move as a family,” it said. And so it has—to theater, schools, synagogues, nonprofit organizations and communities.

This year marks the 15th anniversary for the PBS series P.O.V., for whose programmers outreach has always been a part of its mission. Through P.O.V. Interactive (www.pbs.org/pov), and its subsidiary link Talk Back, among other community projects, the program has encouraged viewers not just to view the programs, but respond to them, the issues and each other. Some programs have provoked strong responses indeed, and that’s exactly what documentary should be doing.

Finally, we look at the Washington, DC-based Center for Social Media, a relatively new convening forum for workshops, seminars and dialogues, all in the service of looking at how media can make a difference. The center will be researching and mapping the different nodes of activity around the US, so we’ll all have a clear picture of what and how we’re doing.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White