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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, June 2004

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Considering the frontiers and pioneers of nonfiction filmmaking is as much a consideration of the zeitgeist as it is of the art form. In this era of mashing, surfing, blogging, listserving and synthesizing in the vast, souped-up, multi-dimensional and multi-planed cyberverse of the third millennium, genres blur and collide into new forms. There's a certain legerdemain and trompe d'oeil to all of this—fiction and nonfiction, music video and music documentary, re-enactments and re-creations. It's irreverence and reverence at the same time, all in the service of truth-seeking and storytelling.

Such media artists as Alan Berliner, Jay Rosenblatt, Jesse Lerner, Caveh Zahedi and Carroll Parrott Blue have made careers out of testing the parameters of the documentary form, working with texture, structure and a multitude of cinematic elements, while maintaining an allegiance, of sorts, to what nonfiction can do. Mark Johnstone gives us a snippet of some of what's afoot at the outskirts of the documentary community.

The idea of blending fiction and nonfiction elements is not new, but a recent spate of filmmaking activity has prompted both the Sundance Film Festival and Full Frame Documentary Film Festival to devote panel discussions and programs to the hybrid form. Chuleenan Svetvilaslooks at a cross-section of new work—Kevin Willmott's CSA: Confederate States of America, Jonathan Cauoette's Tarnation, Amie Siegel's Empathy and Roystan Tan's 15—that both eschews and embraces nonfiction and fiction conventions.

Employing re-enactments and re-creations is not a new strategy either, and it's always been a controversial one. While dramatization is a common solution to an apparent paucity of footage and material on a specific subject, many filmmakers are employing this technique in increasingly provocative ways, to serve not only the cinematic presentation but also as a means to a better understanding of that subject. Tom Powers investigates some examples.

Finally, we look at two works that have been coursing through the festival circuit over the past year. The Five Obstructions, by Danish wünderkind Lars von Trier and his mentor from the Danish Film Institute, Jørgen Leth, is a high concept exercise—and von Trier's first venture into documentary. Von Trier challenges Leth to re-make his classic 1967 short The Perfect Human five different ways. The result: a fascination and quite funny foray into the creative process and the innate pitfalls, mistakes and misconceptions en route to conception and delivery. Leth shares his post-Obstruction experience with Kevin Lewis.

Bodysong, from the UK-based Simon Pummell, tells the story of nothing less than the human experience through a stunning mosaic of 100 years of found and archival footage collected from around the world, to a richly textured soundtrack from Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. Darianna Cardilli talks to Pummell about making the film and the website that complements and enhances it.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White