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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, September-October 2004

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

It's wildfire season in the West, and with the right set of circumstances-high temperatures, fierce winds, combustible foliage and dry conditions—entire forests can turn from sylvan sanctuaries to roaring hellholes.

An election year in a democratic republic can seize the populace in the same way, particularly given the ingredients: a polarized nation, an unpopular war and a deep disconnect between the government and the people it purports to serve. Then the fundamental tenet of a democracy—free expression—is unstoppable. That's where we come in. This year, the anger is there, but it's channeled into discussion, debate and discourse at high levels and low levels, in the boardrooms and bedrooms and on the streets—and all this is largely attributable to something unprecedented happening in the movie theaters.

While the "Columbine Effect" arguably kicked open the door for a large population to check out a rich variety of documentaries, ranging from Winged Migration to Spellbound to Capturing the Friedmans to My Architect, the Fahrenheit Inferno is shifting the conversation from the art houses to the multiplexes. With Fahrenheit 9/11 looking to smash the $100 million barrier (at press time) and possibly help to oust the current US president, this is not just the Year of the Documentary II. This is the Era.

As of this writing, other docs such as Control Room, Super Size Me, The Corporation and The Hunting of the President have barnstormed the box office, while Robert Greenwald just followed up his grassroots hit Uncovered: The Truth about the Iraq War with OutFoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism. His Unconstitutional, which looks at the Bush Administration's questionable actions with regard to civil rights and free expression, is slated for a September release.

These films are the products of intrepid individuals who went their independent ways to ferret out the truth. And that's what documentary does. The documentary form has emerged over the past few years from its marginalized corner as not the medicinal, earnest D-word, but as the entity it has always been—an art form, rich with possibilities and directions. And this dramatic emergence has, in turn, provoked the debate over just what is a documentary (granted, some of the commentary is coming from the right, but many in the doc community are asking the same thing).

In the next issue, we will be exploring this and other questions that the Fahrenheit phenomenon has provoked.

In the meantime, before you make a documentary, it's always a good idea to learn how to do it. In the issue, we hope to provide you with some criteria to assess your options in furthering your education, as well as some examples of educational programs for levels ranging from elementary school to graduate school and beyond.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White