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Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, January 2005

By Richard Propper

Dear IDA Members,

What will 2005 bring for the documentary world? I make no predictions, but it does look good. The year 2004 was impressive, no question. With a volatile election campaign and an increasingly partisan mainstream media, documentaries, as the new news, enjoyed an unprecedented success at the box office. Clearly, nonfiction films have provided something provocative and challenging for an eager public.

Here in the United States we have many network and cable news channels. But a unique television program on CNN called Crossfire is known as one of the better "screaming heads" news programs. Recently there was a back-and-forth with Comedy Central's Daily Show host Jon Stewart. Somewhere the hosts, Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala, forgot that Stewart hosted a comedy show, and attacked him for not asking Senator John Kerry stronger questions. After some heated debate, Stewart responded to the panel of paid news hosts: "You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls." Which leads me to think: where is news going to be in the coming years?  How soft does mainstream news have to get before legions of people stop watching?  2005 should be a good year for documentaries; I can hardly wait.

As I write this month's column we are only a few weeks away from the IDA's 20th Annual Awards Gala. This event has been keeping the light on for documentary filmmakers worldwide. It honors the known and unknown filmmakers, the brilliant films, the student efforts, and even documentaries that make the best use of video footage. I applaud what the IDA has accomplished in 20 years of this event. Further, I am impressed with the commitment of the committees that judge these films. Meeting weekly for months, six committees sit in rooms watching hundreds of documentaries to find the best. Recommendations are made, the short list gets seen by five blue ribbon committees and eventually the best films rise to the top; we find our winners. We are impressed with the quality of these films every year, and it keeps getting better. 

I would like to thank the chairs of the nominating, awards and gala committees for their hard work on behalf the IDA: Lynne Littman (features); diane estelle Vicari, (features, awards and gala); Sven Berkemeier (shorts); Douglas Chang (limited/continuing series), Bryan McKenzie (student award); Brian Wakil (awards), and Barbara Leigh Gregson (gala).

There is a lot to talk about these days, and documenting our world allows us to understand it better when the traditional sources of news leave us asking for more.


Until next time,

Richard Propper
IDA President