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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, May 2001

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

In this issue and next, we will look at some of the specific ingredients that go into documentary filmmaking—shooting, editing, writing, composing—exploring the technical subtleties of the craft and the less tangible, more ethereal aspects of the art.

Over the past five or six years, the documentary art form has evolved in dramatic ways, with the advent of dynamic new equipment that has served not only to facilitate the process but also to democratize it. Much like the birth of synchronous sound and portable cameras in the late ’50s and video in the late ’60s, the dawning of the digital era in the early ’90s has expanded the possibilities of nonfiction media.

Thomas Repp is a Germany-based filmmaker whose documentary work has been seen on German and French television. He decided to make a short narrative to compare the ARRI 435 film camera with the new, highly-touted Sony HD F-900 24P, shooting the same footage, shot for shot, with both systems and testing the results out on an audience. David Huering reports on this experiment. The post-production process has also seen mini-revolutions afoot, with Final Cut Pro making a big splash as a quick and efficient means of non-linear-based editing, going head to head with Avid, the heretofore undisputed king of the digital frontier. Documentarian Rob Stone spoke to several seasoned editors who have used both systems to give us a candid take on how they measure up.

Finally, we step into the world of motion control, a world most frequented by historical documentary makers, for whom archival stills are the foundation of the work. Motion control, as articulated here by two of its leading practitioners, Berle Cherney and Ed Joyce, is essentially the art of bringing these stills to life. Barbara Rick, who is embarking on a documentary about the history of women in journalism, decided to check out this means of capturing history.

In a survey conducted late last year, you readers indicated that you wanted to see fewer articles on festivals, markets and competitions. I have responded in kind, not by eliminating festivals and market coverage entirely, but by being more selective in what we cover and how we cover it. Festivals do serve a valuable purpose in many ways—as a bond between filmmaker and viewer, as a grassroots marketing mechanism, as a means to take a film to higher places, as a crucible for new ideas and directions—and we’ll be taking a more scrutinizing look at festivals in general in issues to come. For now, we present reports on the Sundance Film Festival, which this year expanded its House of Docs component to 10 days in its ongoing efforts to foster a brighter world for documentary makers; the Slamdance Film Festival, which, six years after staking its claim on Sundance’s turf in Park City, continues in its own scrappy way to stand on guard for independents; and Berlin, a grizzled but feisty veteran on the European front. On the market scene, Sridhar Desai reports from NATPE, the largest television market in the US, on pitching your project—and taking ownership of it. Finally, “Tales from the Trenches” features Jane Velez-Mitchell, a broadcast journalist of some 20 years, who talks about how her career helped—and hindered—her in making her first documentary, a personal portrait of her mother. In this month’s “Playback,” St. Clair Bourne reflects on two films—William Greaves’ Still A Brother and Bill Jersey’s A Time for Burning—that made an impression on him as he prepared his first documentary, Let the Church Say Amen!.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White