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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Winter 2012

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Welcome to Awards Season 2011-12, that frenzied marathon to the mid-winter finish line, whose players include the Academy Awards, Gotham Awards, Spirit Awards, Camera Eye Honors, a bevy of critics honors and guild awards and ,of course, the IDA Documentary Awards.

The 27th edition of the IDA Documentary Awards introduces a number of changes. This year, IDA members vote on the finalists in the feature and shorts categories, and we will announce all the winners, with the exception of the Pare Lorentz Award winner--Bill Haney's The Last Mountain--at the Awards Show.

This year also marks the debut of the Creative Recognition Awards, which honor creative achievement in documentary filmmaking--specifically in cinematography, editing and use of music. These awards underscore the collaborative effort of powerful nonfiction storytelling. Congratulations, respectively, to cinematographer/director Massimo D'Anolfi, of The Castle (Il Castello); editors Gregers Sall and Chris King and director Asif Kapadia of Senna; and composer Paul Brill and directors Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega of Better This World for their inspiring contributions to the art and craft of documentary filmmaking.

For individual honors, we salute Les Blank with the Career Achievement Award. In a way, Blank completes a power troika, of sorts, with two previous honorees, Errol Morris in 2009, and Werner Herzog in 2008. When Morris, then a student at University of California, Berkeley film school, proposed to make a documentary about pet cemeteries, his teacher, Herzog, vowed that if that happened, he'd eat his shoe. Morris went on to make Gates of Heaven, and Herzog made good on his promise, which Blank documented in Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Blank's later master work, Burden of Dreams, captures Herzog's struggles to make his 1982 film Fitzcarraldo.

But Blank is more than a link in a chain. He is one of the foremost cinematic chroniclers of America's cultural soul, taking on the work started by the likes of ethnomusicologists Harry Smith and Alan Lomax and expanding it into more poetically transformative territory. Taylor Segrest, who himself profiled Morris and Herzog in previous IDA Documentary Awards issues, talks to Blank about the rich cast of characters he's managed to find and share with us.

 The IDA Documentary Awards also celebrate the newcomers to the nonfiction nucleus, those whose innovation and vision demonstrate a promise of greater works ahead. The Jacqueline Donnet Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award goes this year to Danfung Dennis, whose career as a photojournalist in war-torn regions laid the foundation for his first film, Hell and Back Again, which chronicles one soldier's life on the battlefront and the homefront, and his difficulties in reconciling the two milieus. Danfung shares with Justin Ridgeway his insights about transitioning from photojournalism to documentary, as well as how his experience documenting war provided a unique understanding of the trauma of coming home.

Yours in actuality,

Thomas White