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Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, February 1996

By Lisa Leeman

It is with honor that I greet you as the new president of the IDA Board of Directors. It will be difficult to follow in Mel Stuart's footsteps, but I hope to help guide the IDA through a productive thirteenth year. I want to bid farewell and thanks to our outgoing board members Henry Breitrose, Ann Hassett, Lee Lew-Lee, Marilyn Ryan, Mel Stuart, and Carmen Vega. We will miss each of them and are grateful for their contributions to the IDA. I wish them all the best on their future endeavors. And I'd like to welcome new board members Carol L. Fleisher, Lyn Goldfarb, David Haugland, Carol Munday Lawrence, Andre Singer, and Lance Webster. I look forward to working with them to support documentarians and nonfiction film.

I'm writing this from England, where I am visiting family for the holidays. I've been cheered by the attitude toward documentaries here. At a New Year's dinner party, my host proclaimed that "everyone in England has their two favorite documentaries." This felt very unlike the United States, where, while documentaries have a devoted following, it's not that common for people at a dinner party to wax ecstatically over the documentary on Thomas Hardy they saw last week. In the London Daily Telegraph's culture wrap-up of 1995, Stephen Pile writes, "This is the golden age of documentary, which flourishes as never before.... Now in its maturity, the form has the confidence to be an art in its own right....

No longer tied to mere facts, it has taken on painting's abandoned role and can now make us look at human behavior with fresh eyes." Pile adds that not only has he seen great documentary artists flourish, "but also whole series in which documentaries speak in different forms, styles, and voices." This is encouraging to hear, especially since U.S. funds and venues for documentaries appear to be shrinking as never before.

It's my hope that in the coming year the IDA can help filmmakers and exhibitors develop new strategies for these difficult times. One of these strategies must be to build a stronger nonfiction community, nationally and worldwide. As a filmmaker, I want to know what my peers are doing around the world. And until the United States recommits to public support of the arts and public broadcasting, the wave of the future may be in coproductions with other countries. This trend is already building, as evidenced by the recent International Film Financing Conference in San Francisco and last year's Mini-INPUT at the Rio Cinema Festival (see page 16).

This year, look for the IDA to reach out to U.S. regional members and to our international members. One way to foster community is through online communication, and I hope to report soon that the IDA will be increasing its presence on the Internet by developing a site on the World Wide Web. (I've done a few quick searches of documentary on the Web and have been overwhelmed by the number and randomness of the entries.) Imagine an IDA Web site where you could look up members in that region of Siberia where you'll be shooting; a page to list your job skills; an area for documentary sales and rentals; a directory of film festivals, funding, and distributors; and discussion areas for various topics of interest to nonfiction filmmakers.

When I can correspond and develop cyber-friendships with documentary makers in Moscow, Beijing, Bombay, and Burkina Faso, then I will truly feel we are living in a global village. (In the meantime, be su re to read this issue's article "Internet Made Easy: Cybersurfing for Documentaries," in which producer Mark Finkelpearl identifies Web sites he has found to be useful in his work.)

So keep up your good work, and I wish all of you a fruitful and fully funded 1996.