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Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, April 1999

By David Haugland

Congratulations to all of the documentary nominees in the 71st Academy Awards®'

For best achievement in documentary features:

  • Dancemaker, Matthew Diamond & Jerry Kupfer
  • The Farm: Angola, U.S.A. Jonathan Stack & Liz Garbus
  • The Last Days, June Beallor, James Moll & Ken Lipper
  • Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth, Robert B. Weide
  • Regret to Inform, Barbara Sonneborn and Janet Cole

For best achievement in documentary short subjects:

  • The Personals, Keiko Ibi
  • A Place in the Land, Charles Guggenheim
  • Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square, Shui-bo Wang & Donald McWil liams.

For a few minutes on Sunday, March 21st, an estimated two billion people, from around the world, will turn their attention to these eight documentary films. Amazing! The Academy Awards broadcast is the most-watched promotion of documentaries ever mounted, and the recognition and esteem it provides is inestimable.

Since 1941 (the 14th year of Oscars®), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has recognized documentary films. That first year was a time of war, and there were no feature nominees, only short subjects. Notably, the first Academy Award for achieve­ment in documentary went to Churchill's Island, a film by one of this year 's nominees, the National Film Board of Canada.

Two other past nominees return to the Oscars this year. The Four Oaks Foundation and executive producer Walter Scheuer are this year represented by Dancemaker; they were previously recog­nized with an Academy Award for From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stem in China, also a nomination for Fiddlefest. Charles Guggenheim returns with A Place in the Land. Eleven previous nominations (including 3 documentary Oscars and one for live action), in both the short and feature categories, make Charles one of our most esteemed documentarians.

Celebrating outstanding achievement is integral to our ongoing commitment to preserve and promote documentaries. For the 17th year, LOA hosted two special events in celebration of the Academy Award nominees. Keeping with our tradition of paying special attention to both the films and filmmakers, we held a celebratory evening of clips from the nominated films and comments from the creators on Wednesday , March 17, in the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Academy, sponsored by our trustee HBO. And three days later, we continued our annual public screening program of Oscar­ nominated documentaries at DocuDay, held again at the Directors Guild Theater—from 10 a.m. to midnight, the nominated documentaries were screened for packed audiences of members and the public, followed by discussions with the filmmakers. The Saturday screenings were partially funded by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

These two events were a special opportunity for our members to see these films, meet the filmmakers and mingle with colleagues. As an IDA member, join me in taking pride that again this year, three nominated films—The Last Days, Regret to Inform, and The Personals—qualified for Academy Award consideration by being screened in Los Angeles during lDA's second annual DOCtober."'

While Oscar-nominated films represent only a few of literally thousands of documentary hours produced and seen by audiences around the world each year, the Academy Awards remain the single most recognizable means of sustaining public and professional awareness and appreciation of documentaries. Besides, two billion people can't be wrong!


David Haughland,
IDA President