January 9, 2018

Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Winter 2018

Dear Readers,

The image on the cover of this issue—from Bill Morrison's IDA Award-winning Dawson City: Frozen Time—tells a fascinating story. It's a story of archaeology and excavation, and what is revealed about a turn-of-the-century Canadian Gold Rush town through an accidentally unearthed trove of silent films and newsreels.

Archival and stock footage constitute the raw material for so much great nonfiction storytelling. In the right hands, through artfully deployed recontextualization, the best documentaries have prompted us to reconsider how we think about and engage history, culture and iconography; how and where we place our heroes on the continuum between lionization and humanization; and how we move forward as a people and as a culture by scrutinizing through a revisionist lens—and reconciling our ideas of what is past and what is present.

Our Winter issue—and a selection of online features—focus on the art and business of archives and archival and stock footage. On the artistic side, Akiva Gottlieb talks to Morrison, as well as other experimental filmmakers such as Courtney Stephens, Rebecca Baron and Kevin Jerome Everson, about their process of engaging the material in a speculative fashion. The past few years has seen an impressive collection of portraits that, through a rich blend of news and personal footage, have reimagined the tension between public persona and private self. Brett Morgen, Asif Kapadia, Nina Krstic, Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez discuss with Matthew Carey how archival footage uncovered a deeper truth about their respective subjects.

One of the most honored proponents of the history documentary genre is the PBS series American Experience, which for three decades has afforded viewers a vital encounter with the past and a consequent reckoning with the present. Laura Almo talks with the series' longtime executive producer, Mark Samels, about how the films in American Experience have taken viewers "back in a time capsule into the past."

The footage business is a thriving one, populated in part by such television and cable giants as ABC, CNN and Pond5. Jane Dubzinski sits down with representatives from these companies about how they work with documentary makers. In a dispatch from the UK, filmmaker Mike Todd shares some of the challenges he has faced in dealing with a relatively small corps of very powerful archive holders. For further clarification of the legal ecology of licensing, negotiation and fair use, we called upon our team of columnists/attorneys Steven Beer, Jake Levy and Neil Rosini to explain things for us. Finally, esteemed archive guru Matthew White has forged a distinguished career in this business, running his own stock footage library and holding executive positions at National Geographic, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Association of Stock Image Libraries. He shares with Ron Deutsch his concerns about preservation and digitization in a YouTube-dominated world.

Yours in actuality,

Tom White