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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, March/April 2006

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

With all the brouhaha about authors James Frey and JT Leroy these days--one having passed his memoir off as nonfiction, the other having been an elaborate fictional construct--it's a wonder what lengths we'll go in the name of art and commerce. But reinvention is a classic American conceit, one that treads the fine line between immaculate deception and conceptual art.

The memoir falls into the realm of nonfiction, but memory, like history, is a malleable concept, one tempered by experience and time, and by equal measures of nurture and nature. Whether we call the final product autobiography, memoir or chronicle, it is our closest approximation of the truth.

In the world of nonfiction media, particularly when dealing with history, we shape a story out of thousands of hours of recorded life. And if the raw material is insufficient, or unavailable, or inaccessible, we rework our methodologies and strategies and ferret out the truth as best as we can. For Robert Drew, one of the pioneers of the documentary form, this meant rethinking the very set of filmmaking guidelines that he and Drew Associates developed nearly five decades ago when he set to out to make his most personal film, From Two Men and a War. The film is a remembrance of his experience as a fighter pilot in World War II and particularly of two influential figures--his father and war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who served as a mentor and father-figure to Drew. Kevin Lewis talks to Drew about the choices he needed to make--and the rules he had to break--in telling his story.

A year ago, in the wake of Robert Hudson and Bobby Houston earning the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject for their film Mighty Times 2: The Children's March, there was a hue and cry from the documentary community about the use of reenactments and archival footage, and how Hudson and Houston had used film stock and camera equipment to render the reenactments indistinguishable from the footage. Out of this debate, Bill Nichols, a distinguished scholar of documentary, explores the possibility of a documentary code of ethics that would look at reenactments and re-creations, as well as other areas such as the covenant between filmmakers and their subjects.

In its six-year heyday, reality TV has been bandied about as a pejorative--a misapplied use of the term "reality." Yet, for all the chaff that seems to proliferate the networks these days, there are some leading lights who have leant a healthy dose of gravitas and artistry to the genre. Sarah Jo Marks talks to some of these artists about where the form is going. In addition, Patrick Crawford talks to two documentary filmmakers who share their observations about the reality TV gigs they've taken on between independent projects.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White