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The IDA and the Millennium of the Documentary: A Message from the Executive Director

By Sandra Ruch

Allow me to introduce you to the new Executive Director of the International Documentary Association. She is a high-energy, creative, capable executive with miles of experience and tons of contacts. Her name is Sandra Ruch.

Sandra worked for over a decade with PBS on the programming and promotion of Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery!. Her daily involvement with these programs allowed her to interact with filmmakers, producers, broadcasters and station programmers. She also helped produce Pride of Place, a 12-part documentary on American architecture for PBS.

As President of Marketing for New Line Cinema, Sandra was responsible for all marketing activities for all of New Line Cinema’s domestic theatrical releases. She supervised a 20-person, bi-coastal marketing staff, managing a departmental budget of over $37 million for 12 films annually.

Elsewhere in the entertainment industry, she served as Senior Vice President of Marketing for Cinergi Pictures, where she developed the marketing strategy and PR campaign for the film Evita, and was an Executive Producer at Fox Television. Her most recent experience was as head of Beyond the Box Marketing, her own consulting firm.

Sandra also worked as Project Director at Scholastic Inc., the largest educational publisher in the world, where she developed “Reading Together: Make it a Family Tradition,” a national reading initiative that reached every teacher and student in grades K-3 in America. She secured Chrysler Corporation as a two-year $4 million sponsor for the program.

Sandra currently lives in West Los Angeles with her husband, James Wolfe, a well-known artist whose works are in major museum collections such as the Hirshhorn, Whitney and Boston Museum of Art.

The IDA staff has warmly embraced Sandra and is delighted, by her presence and the future possibilities of working with her.

-Michael Donaldson
IDA President


It’s 2001, and reality is hot. In fact, we seem to have begun the Millennium of the Documentary.

Flip through your TV, and what do you see? Documentary-inspired reality programming like Survivor, Big Brother, Cops, Taxi Cab Confessions and The Real World—all of them commercial and popular successes that are giving the TV industry new life. In the narrative film world, it is only two years since The Blair Witch Project parlayed a documentary-inspired look into one of the biggest box office successes of the year. And more traditional documentaries like Wim Wenders’ Buena Vista Social Club also have scored fantastic critical and audience acclaim. Combine those trends with the affordable advent of DV and PC editing, opening doors for more auteurs to document their world, and it’s a safe bet that in the coming years, the documentary will truly come into its own.

It’s a great time for the documentary, and the possibilities for the IDA are fantastic. Together, we have a real chance to share with the world ways in which the documentary has not only paced, but also led, the art of film itself. In this regard, the IDA and its members have already accomplished an extraordinary amount over the past two decades. Work, communication and creativity have helped build a vibrant institution with both a clear history and an open future. For those who don’t know the extent of our organization, here’s what we’re working with:

  • The IDA has worldwide membership of over 2,600 in more than 50 countries.
  • International Documentary, first published in 1982 as a quarterly newsletter, is now a bona fide magazine reaching over 12,000 readers ten times a year.
  • The IDA produces many events, including the Awards Program, which includes the IDA Distinguished Documentary Achievement Awards, established in 1984 to honor features, and later expanded to include shorts as well as limited and continuing series; the David L. Wolper Student Award; the Pare Lorentz Award; and the ABC News VideoSource Award. For screening events, there’s DOCtober Film Festival; DocuDay, a screening of Academy Award® nominees; DocuFest, which screens the IDA Award winning films; and a Fiscal Sponsorship program that has provided 362 filmmakers nonprofit status, enabling them to find funding and support for their work.

Guiding the IDA forward from this impressive base of activity is my job as Executive Director. I’m sure you’re wondering what I can do for the IDA. My primary goal is to establish the IDA as the premiere brand in the documentary film world. Next year, 2002, is the 20th anniversary of the IDA—a perfect opportunity to celebrate both the organization and the documentary tradition itself.

In the coming years, it is my hope to make the IDA synonymous with documentary filmmaking, and help to further the craft as both a respected artistic tradition and a bankable commercial product that draws investors and audiences alike, thus providing exciting new avenues of exploration for you, the creators.

In practical terms, the first step is building a strong financial base for the next 20 years. From this new base, I hope to guide the IDA in initiating an endowment fund that will significantly increase the amount of programming for workshops, seminars, festivals and member benefits. This fund will benefit us in many ways, but particularly in the following:

1) Creating a wider audience by raising awareness of documentaries
2) Providing a forum for established documentary filmmakers to build community
3) Enabling the stars of tomorrow a place to grow and become educated
4) Establishing the IDA as enabler of international co-production alliances, in order to meet the expanding global market.

In the coming year, our short-term challenges are clear. We must establish a stronger IDA presence at documentary film festivals and festivals that include documentaries. We must build and continue to augment a development program. We are also responsible for building better inroads to the corporate community, including Hollywood studios, for its support and sponsorship. By meeting these challenges creatively, I believe the IDA will provide more services and resources for our membership.

There is also a primary issue, which deserves special, separate mention. Many former members I've spoken with feel that recent years have focused more often on the best-known, highly visible documentary films at the unfortunate expense of one of our most essential aims: to build up and support the lesser-known, grass-roots elements of our membership. It is in the interest of all of us to shift this trend, and thus ensure our future as an institution. As individuals, we’re all talented, but as a team, we can truly be fantastic!

And those are only my ideas. The IDA has over 2,600 members throughout the world, and it is you, the makers and supporters of documentary film, who will decide the future direction of the IDA. I am well aware that the primary function of the IDA is to answer the needs of the documentary community. As the membership clarifies these needs, we will work together to implement forward-thinking solutions. Something out of nothing is what documentary filmmakers do best, and I intend to tap this invaluable artistic asset for even greater business applications.

As was previously stated, 2002 will be the 20th anniversary of the International Documentary Association. I feel both very fortunate and very excited to have joined this organization at such a major milestone. With you, I share a love for documentary film, and a desire to bring that to the world. Today, the IDA is in a great position; tomorrow, it can be even better. We'll do this by working together, using our creativity, communication and resources to help make 2002 “The Year of the Documentary,” leading us and the world into the future of Documentary Film.