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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, March 2001

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Please allow me to introduce myself. While I have produced five issues of International Documentary as Acting Editor, and I had served for four years as Associate Editor, this is my inaugural issue as Editor. And while I will surely miss the archly hip, post-mod, post-deconstructionist, post-semiotic resonance of “Acting” Editor (my quotes), I can certainly acclimate myself to the ponderous actuality of Editor (my italics). I’ve always made my editorial presence felt over the years through feature articles and reports, but I’ve reserved my commentary and observations, up to now, for my modest little fiefdom in the Short Takes column known as Outtakes. Well, Fast Foreword is Outtakes in full bloom. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my Politburo, the Publications Committee, for opening this space for me. And I will do my utmost to continue to keep you, the readers, informed, enlightened and entertained about the past, present and future of this dynamic art form and those who practice it.

That said, let me be your guide as we take a look in this issue at Public Broadcasting Service—not the entire behemoth, mind you, but certain aspects of it.

A year ago this month, Pat Mitchell made the great leap from the private sector to the public sector, leaving her post as head of CNN Productions and Time Inc. Television to become the first documentary producer to head up America’s largest and only noncommercial broadcasting service. In this issue, Mitchell reflects on her year at the top—the structural and procedural changes she’s instituted and the cross-country tour to PBS stations that she undertook—and shares her programmatic vision for PBS’ future. Patric Hedlund, author of A Bread Crumb Trail through the PBS Jungle, wrote the piece.

We also take a look at three of PBS’ flagship programs—American Experience, Frontline and NOVA. Ted Barron, a former Boston resident well familiar with Boston-based PBS station WGBH (which produces those three programs), talks with in-house producers about their selection process and how they work with independent filmmakers. Stephanie Mardesich, longtime publicist for IDA, tackles the view from the other side, as independents share with her their experiences—some good, some bad—of working with the Beantown troika.

As for our regularly featured columns, “Tales from the Trenches” and “Playback,” two-time Academy Award® nominee Jonathan Stack shares with us his remarkable facility for finding a treasure trove of stories in the direst of places, while longtime PBS mainstay David Grubin recalls his epiphanic viewing of the vérité classic Primary.

Stay tuned for next issue, our Academy Awards® special, when we celebrate the nominees for documentary’s highest honor and profile some of the leading cable producers of docs about Hollywood. Also on tap: reports on Sundance, Slamdance, IFFCON and NATPE.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White