Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, November 2004
By Tom White
A few weeks from now, the furious spate of political documentaries that has dominated the big and small screens will come to a crescendo with the latest "most important election of our lifetime." Or will it? The D-Word Community recently devoted a week to the subject of political documentaries, with Jehane Noujaim (The Control Room; Startup.com) and Pamela Yates (When the Mountains Tremble; Witness to War) leading the discussion, under the always capable stewardship of D-Word founder Doug Block.
The panel inspired debates about the difference between social issue docs and political docs—a distinction that, it turns out, is not so easily defined. Throw the terms propaganda, polemic and agitprop into the mix and you have a veritable semantics slamfest. There was also the realization that despite the plethora of docs out there galvanizing the hoards, there is another plethora looking for homes as well. The MoveOn.org model, which has worked well as a distribution mechanism for Robert Greenwald's recent works, could well be the wave of the future. Then there was the question of post-Election Day angst—will these docs matter after November 2? Has this all been a mere trend? How do you stay relevant—or, better, evergreen?
Well, given the media/military/industrial complex that has flared up over the past four years, as well as the sacrosanctification of the FCC, the odds of the docu-naut continuing are actually not as slim as one might think, simply because we need to see what we're not shown and know what's not reported.
Here, as a bookend, of sorts, to the "Docs That Make a Difference" issue that came out last spring, we check out the zeitgeist. Steve Rosenbaum talks to various players in the documentary community about the debate that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 has provoked. Shelley Gabert monitors the flurry of documentaries about politics—Paul Stekler's Last Man Standing, Michael Shoob and Joseph Mealey's Bush's Brain, Alexandra Pelosi's Diary of a Political Tourist, R.J. Cutler's American Candidate among them—while Laura Almo queries various non-US filmmakers who have made works about the US-instigated war in Iraq. Jane Germano talks to Robert Greenwald about the making and distribution of Outfoxed and Unconstitutional. And Kevin Lewis reports on Barbara Rick's new doc, In Good Conscience, about an intrepid nun who has taken on the Vatican about her advocacy on behalf of gays and lesbians. Finally, independent media consultant Peter Broderick has compiled a list of—as his website puts it—"Films to See Before You Vote"; we share a selection of current documentaries that are either in theaters or out on video.
To our American readers, please vote. To our friends over the border and across the sea, tune in on November 2.
Yours in actuality,