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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, June 2005

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Know your rights!

The increasingly prohibitive costs of archival footage, music and other key elements to telling a story are impacting documentary filmmaking. As a follow-up to a February-March 2005 piece about the Center for Social Media's Untold Stories project, Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi, co-directors of American University-based Project on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest, discuss the sometimes Byzantine parameters of "fair use" and present the particulars of a proposed Statement of Best Industry Practices for this area.     

As mentioned last issue, IDA is spearheading an initiative with respect to "orphan films"—those works for which the owner can't be found. Attorney and former IDA President Michael C. Donaldson lays out the details of this knotty problem in rights clearance and proposes a possible solution.

Clearing the music for your documentary can be an onerous and costly process too, but there are ways to amortize, if not ease, your burden over the time you shop your film on the festival circuit—through a "limited rights" strategy, where, rather than frontload your entire music rights budget, you pay as you go. In the process, you might also rethink your aural landscape and come up with a cost-effective—and creative—solution. David G. Powell, whose métier is music clearance and licensing, offers some palatable alternatives.

Earlier this year, the documentary community was abuzz with the fate of the epochal series on the American civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize, and how the costs of renewing the licenses for the archival footage and music were so staggering—by some estimates, as much as $500,000—that an entire generation may never see this vital record of history again, either on television or on DVD. Sheila Curran Bernard, one of the producers on Eyes on the Prize II, talks to several alumni from the Eyes team—Sam Pollard, Orlando Bagwell, Judy Richardson and others—about how producers would fare tackling a project like Eyes on the Prize today. 

Finally, there are some documentaries that may never see the light of day beyond the festival circuit. One case in point, Barbara Freed's A Model for Matisse, is limited to screenings at museums and educational/cultural venues because the photographers who documented Matisse at work—Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Herbert List, among them—were arguably Matisse's peers; hence their respective estates can command considerable sums to use their work. Kevin Lewis talks to Freed about the high cost of finding a home for her work.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White