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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Summer 2015

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Over the past 15 years or so, our community has witnessed an extraordinary growth in utilizing the documentary as a vital tool for social justice, change and impact. The documentary form has always proved its mettle in doing this, and we can thank such analog-era players as New Day Films, Barbara Trent and Arthur Dong for finding ways to get their work to the right audiences. Spurred by the digital revolution, key stakeholders—filmmakers, funders, nonprofit managers, critics, educators—have developed more sophisticated ways to create an evolving outreach infrastructure.

Nowadays, impact is not just a word; it’s a veritable cottage industry and a viable career path. We have impact consultants, impact producers and impact studies. Impact was a major topic of discussion and debate at IDA’s GETTING REAL conference last year, and in this issue—both print and online—we take a look at where we are now with this valuable and volatile subject.

Watch for later this month, when Tricia Finneran talks to a number of thought leaders in the community about the debate that has flared up over the years about impact and art: What about support for docs for art’s sake? Where is that coming from? When the lion’s share of funding for docs is going towards impact, what does that mean for the art form? Can docs like The Wolfpack, which is not intrinsically a social justice film, continue to thrive alongside docs like The Hunting Ground, which absolutely is?

Impact has also fostered a growth in virtual reality and gaming projects. Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson talks here to leading artists and pundits about how they’re harnessing the tools in this space to both inspire change and reach a crucial demographic: millennials.

As the impact infrastructure continues to grow, there has been a lot of activity afoot to measure impact—looking at the double bottom line, assessing the different methodologies for doing so, determining the proper algorhythms and metrics. A handful of useful studies have emerged over the years, and Suz Curtis talks to some of the thought leaders behind these studies.

Somewhat tangential to impact, but no less significant, the community has been blessed this year with a study and an initiative that both serve to empower the filmmaker with tools to fortify his/her practice. The Center for Media and Social Impact published in January Dangerous Documentaries: Reducing Risk When Telling Truth to Power, which articulates some of the legal challenges docmakers face in their work, and some of the resources available to tackle these challenges. Tara Roy talks to some of the prime movers behind this study.

Finally, The Transparency Project, spearheaded by the Sundance Institute and Cinereach, launched in beta earlier this year in an effort to get real data on a film’s performance across multiple platforms. Darianna Cardilli talks to the architects of this project.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White