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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Summer 2009

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

As we experience the early days of the Obama Administration, the historical ramifications of the first African-American President of the United States find a parallel resonance in the media arts community, with a confluence of anniversaries of organizations that were founded to empower ethnic communities with filmmaking skills and sensibilities, and the means to get their stories out there.

Visual Communications, the Los Angeles-based media arts center that promotes and supports the work of Asian Pacific Americans, celebrates its 40th anniversary next year, while one of its flagship projects, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, turns 25 this year. The Native American Film and Video Festival, under the auspices of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, was launched in 1979 as a showcase for Native and indigenous media-making. The National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) celebrates its first decade this year as a major force in mobilizing the Latino filmmaking corps through training and education, as well as advocacy and reform. 

The aforementioned organizations were all formed to address a need for true representation and identity, for taking ownership of one's culture and stories, and for ensuring that the next generation would have the tools and resources to both carry on traditions and explore new paradigms.

So it is with these parallel tracks--the reality of an African-American president leading a nation whose historic faultlines betray the deep scars of racism and oppression, and the milestone celebrations of a group of organizations having been formed out of the cauldron of the civil rights movement--that we look at where we are and where we might be heading as a documentary filmmaking community. Throughout the election year, there were many conversations and discussions about the notion of a "post-racial" world, in which issues of identity and representation are re-contextualized in a larger framework, one defined not exclusively by race. What will that mean to documentary storytelling? How will identity issues, race matters, representation, multiculturalism, etc., figure in the creative process? How will the forces that drove Barack Obama to the White House inform documentary storytelling, further enrich the voices in various communities, shape the art form and sharpen the issues that are explored?

Filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris addresses these questions and shares his own observations about what the landscape looks like for filmmakers of color. Media maven Tavis Smiley, well established as an author and talk show host, has now tried his hand at documentary making, with STAND, which, with a little help from his high-profile friends, takes a journey through the South to get a sense of the state of Black males in America. Tracie Lewis talks to Smiley about his first foray into documentary. Another newcomer to the form, comedian Chris Rock, takes on a well-traveled conceit in African-American culture: hair. Tamara Krinsky discusses Good Hair with producer/writer Rock and executive producer Nelson George.

Change has been the operative word in the White House. Whether that change can be as transformative in the art house and in homes across America is what we try to examine in these pages.

Yours in actuality,


Thomas White