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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Winter 2017

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

Since The Election lurched half of America into a maelstrom of dread and anxiety, we in the documentary community have been retrenching and thinking about what we can be doing better and how we can forge our collective creative might into a force for good.

At the podium at the IDA Awards in December—and in her column in this issue—Board President Marj Safinia stressed the need to "to do what we do best and bridge differences with reflections of shared humanity. It is harder to hate the Other when you know them, so let's hold up a mirror and show America both her sides." 

As we go to press, Firelight Media and Field of Vision just announced Our 100 Days, a series of ten short films that will document the impact of President-Elect Trump's first 100 days in office on the most vulnerable communities in America. As Firelight Media founder Stanley Nelson emphasizes in a statement, "We are proud to launch this initiative that aims to disrupt the march towards normalcy, because for many Americans, there can be no business as usual when extremism is on the rise."

And we at IDA, thanks to the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, will be embarking on a major four-year endeavor: the IDA Documentary/Journalism Project, which will provide support for nonfiction filmmakers and journalists through grants, mentorships, training and access to resources.

These are positive steps on what will be a long, trying journey. As the very idea of cultural diversity is under assault by the alt-right, we must continue to step up our efforts to amplify what democracy looks, sounds and feels like. But that also means diversity of opinions and philosophies—which, in the hermetically sealed silo that the documentary community sometimes tends to be—will be a difficult task. But consider this: Some of the most prominent showcases for nonfiction media—Sundance, True/False, SXSW, Full Frame, Traverse City, Big Sky, Hot Springs—are located in red states, and thanks to the international renown of these festivals, have boosted their respective local economies. That's a start, and what's more, these organizations have been making efforts to forge partnerships and alliances across the political divide. 

Change takes time, and it starts locally, at the grassroots level. And it takes a formidable wellspring of creativity, imagination, verve and will. But it also takes listening and kindness and empathy: These are the building blocks of a strong, working democracy, whose fundamental tenets—free expression, bipartisanship, compromise and civil discourse—cannot be denied.

We in the documentary community are in the business of building empathy machines, after all. To paraphrase what President John F. Kennedy said when he proposed a lunar landing by the end of the decade, we do this not because it's easy, but because it's hard.


Yours in actuality,

Tom White