Skip to main content

Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Spring 2022

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Last fall, when the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) averted a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), it wasn’t just Hollywood that took notice. In the weeks leading up to the IATSE denouement, the New York Film Festival staff made it clear to the ticket-buying public, through words they projected on the side of Alice Tully Hall, that "NyFilmFest Runs on Union Labor."

While the growth of the documentary form in all its permutations might, on the surface, bode well for our community, the concurrent demands from streamers and broadcasters have fast-tracked discussions about, and movement towards, an organizing culture.

So, the Spring 2022 issue takes the temperature of this moment of change, tension and upheaval, and of the potential for the power and spirit of labor movements to take hold in the documentary ecosystem—both in the US and around the world. And just to add an editor’s note here: while it might seem a calculated move on our part to unveil this issue just as our comrades at IDA were launching Documentary Workers Union, we were merely being prescient.

According to a 2020 poll conducted by the Los Angeles-based Nonfiction Union, over 80 percent of professionals in nonfiction and documentary television lacked health benefits and worked substantial hours of unpaid overtime. While the industry guilds have been around for nearly as long as the industry itself, representation of documentarians among the ranks has been slow to grow and develop—and the costs of joining a guild is often out of reach. 

But some efforts are afoot to change that. The Directors Guild of America (DGA) launched its first Documentary Committee in 2020. Veteran director Alexandria Stapleton, who co-chairs its Contracts Committee, shares her experiences of a decade with the DGA and the role she’s playing to bring docmakers into the fold.

The Writers Guild of America East (WGAE) is also stepping up to nudge production companies to pay their employees fairly, as Addie Morfoot reports, and Anthony Kaufman reports on organizing efforts among festivals and nonprofits.

The Alliance of Documentary Editors (ADE) is not a union per se, but this coalition of editors and assistant editors has been advocating for better working conditions and codified ethical standards in the edit room. Darianna Cardilli, an ADE member talks to some of the leaders of the coalition about the road to forming this alliance.

Color Congress, the latest brainchild of two of America’s most wanted change agents, Sonya Childress and Sahar Driver, launched this past January as a means to mobilize POC-led organizaitons and POC documentary filmmakers. Rashid Shabazz of Critical Minded talked to the duo prior to their launch.

Organizing is a global phenomenon, it seems, and we are grateful to Ela Bittencourt for reporting on workers’ fight for the Brazilian Cinematheque, and to Sudipto Sanyal for his piece on India’s People’s Film Collective and its fight to keep documentary free and independent.

Yours in actuality,

Tom White