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Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, June 1997

By David Haugland

This month IDA takes special pride in celebrating our rich heritage and the vitality in our field today.

"Documentary" was coined by the revolutionary British figure John Grierson, who marshaled the support necessary to begin the first government-sponsored program of information films for the general public. What Grierson was to Great Britain, Pare Lorentz was to the United States. The inroads, the accomplishments—and the disappointments—of these two filmmakers more than a half century ago paved the path that is tread by us all today.

When Lorentz joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the newly formed Resettlement Administration in the 1930s, he associated himself with a unit whose legacy of film production stretched back to 1908. In short order he produced films that focused on the immediate problems of the culture and offered solutions.

Lorentz' The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936), The River (1938), The Fight for Life (1940) The Nuremberg (1948) are classics of government sponsored filmmaking. Each is imbued with an activist approach to bringing governmental solutions to deep seated social troubles, with a lyricism that transcends the substance of the problem.

Beyond the evocative images captured by his films, Lorentz challenged the government's use of media to inform the public about national problems and concerns, to address specifically those problems ignored by the national media, and to do so with government financial support without treading on the arena of entertainment-based industry.

It is in the spirit of this first recipient of the IDA Career Achievement Award that IDA is proud to announce a call for entries for consideration for the first IDA/Pare Lorentz Award for a film that demonstrates the democratic sensibility, activist spirit, and lyrical vision of one of the founders of our documentary tradition. In honor of his work at this new award, IDA will screen Nuremberg at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles on June 2.

We extend our grateful appreciation for the support and generosity of Elizabeth Lorentz and Pare Lorentz, Jr. and the help and guidance of Erik Barnouw and Sanford Low.

Screenings of documentaries by women filmmakers at the Museum of Modern Art in New York during the past month marked the 25th anniversary of the venerable distributor, Women Make Movies, headed by Debra Zimmerman. Films from IDA members screened at MoMA included Jan Krawitz's In Harm's Way, Tina DeFeliciantonio and Jane C. Wagner's Girls Like Us; and Deborah Hoffman's Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter. Conjure Woman by members Demetria Roywals and Louise Diamond is also part of the retrospective of titles from Women Make Movies being toured.

And this issue of ID spotlights three women working in documentary today: Meema Spadola, whose film about Breasts was highly touted on HBO/Cinemax Reel Life this past January; Jan Krawitz, Professor of Communication at Stanford University; and Freida Lee Mock, Academy Award winner for Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision. Their work is a tribute to the vitality in the documentary spirit of women who make movies. 


David Haugland
IDA President