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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Summer 2020

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

In this most convulsive of years, summer hasn’t felt like summer. In the months between when we published the Spring 2020 issue online, COVID-19 has continued to carve out its invisible path of devastation. Here in Southern California, the virus persists, with devastatingly high numbers of daily cases and fatalities, especially among communities of color toiling in the essential jobs to keep the world running. 

Over the course of the pandemic, we have monitored the dramatic pivots the documentary community have taken—particularly, festivals transitioning to online, virtual manifestations;and  a robust series of thoughtful dialogues, instigated notably by Firelight Media, with their Beyond Resilience series; and DOC NYC, with their Friday Fixes. These endeavors have fueled the ongoing conversation about systemic, structural and institutional racism in our community, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion issues. 

Here at virtual IDA, we’re busy building out the programming for our online version of Getting Real, happening in September. Conference director Maggie Bowman has assembled a dynamic team of programmers and advisors to deliver a slate of provocative sessions, keynotes and more. Tune in online for our coverage, and watch out for the Fall issue—our first print edition since the beginning of the pandemic—which will feature content to complement and preview what’s in store for this much anticipated conference. Our Winter issue will spotlight the key takeaways and action items that will keep transforming and redefining the culture of the documentary community.

Back to the Summer issue, in which we monitor COVID-related activities over the past few months. UK-based writer Carol Nahra checks in with both commissioning editors and filmmakers about the work they’ve been doing, both in concert with the National Health Service and with British citizens trying to cope during lockdown. In the early weeks of the pandemic, Anthony Kaufman checked in with filmmaker and sales agents about how the virtual festival circuit had impacted their rollout plans for their films. Addie Morfoot took up a similar assignment, which we published in July, as filmmakers looked ahead to the balance of 2020 and into 2021 and sales agents like Josh Braun, in an extended interview, speculated on the possibilities for theatrical, VOD and festival premieres.

As we announced in February, we launched our first-ever Documentary Magazine Editorial Fellows program (thanks to a grant from the NEA) and we share work here from three of our Fellows—Yi Chen, Kristal Sotomayor and Reveca Torres. Chen writes about the documentary efforts by and about the persecuted Uyghur community, a majority Muslim ethnic group in in the northern region of China. Torres, whose feature on James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham’s Crip Camp was published last March, discusses disability aesthetics and taps into experts in academia and the arts for their insights into creating access and eliminating barriers. Sotomayor, who previously contributed a piece on Grace Lee and Marjan Safinia’s acclaimed doc series And She Could Be Next, delves into the Puerto Rico-based documentary community, providing a historical context, pre-and post-Hurricane Maria, about how the challenges of funding and making work are informed by Puerto Rico’s tenuous status as a US territory with few rights and a devastated economy.

Watch for work from our fourth Fellow, Ashley Omoma, whose online feature about Oge Egbuonu’s (In)Visible Portraits was recently published, and whose piece on Garrett Bradley’s TIME will be spotlighted in the Fall issue.

Finally, spurred by the tech survey that drove our Winter 2020 issue, we introduce two columns—Shooting Scenarios and Cutting Class. Shooting Scenarios breaks down a single scene, looking at the shooting logistics, creative challenges, and camera gear deployed. Cutting Class focuses on a specific aspect of the post-production process—also breaking down a scene editorially, and delving into innovative solutions to creative challenges. Pat Thomson devotes both columns to David France’s Welcome to Chechnya, in which France and his team took extraordinary precautions and came up with bold and brilliant strategies to protect the identities of their endangered protagonists.

Yours in actuality,

Tom White


Documentary Magazine