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Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, May 2000

By David Haugland

Dear IDA Members:

As this issue of ID goes to bed, the first virtual film festival—Yahoo's On Line Film Festival—is streaming on the World Wide Web! (

During the last century, film festivals became an integral part of every documentary filmmaker's release strategy. We are all familiar with stories about the most recent documentary "discovery" from Sundance, Berlin, New York, Yamagata or Amsterdam. The fortunate few that received press attention at festivals often then secured limited theatrical distribution, faithful art house audiences, critical acclaim and, hopefully, financial success.

High on the list of qualities I attribute to film festivals is the simple fact that we, as filmmakers and audiences, get to meet one another face to face.

As recently as Sundance 2000 and Amsterdam, I had the pleasure of seeing colleagues on shuttles, in cafe and waiting in line for screenings. Since many of us work independently and fall out of touch for months on end during production, festivals give us that great opportunity to catch up with friends, make new ones and re-enter the real world.

Film festivals also offer filmmakers and audiences the thrill of being together in a dark theater when a fresh print and the first public screening of a documentary unspools. Ask any filmmaker about that moment at a festival screening when the final credits roll in awed silence to be broken only by exuberant applause as the filmmaker's name appears—you'll understand how important festival screenings truly are!

Truth was then. This is now.

Technological advances do not directly threaten any of the qualities of film festivals I've mentioned. But, I do want to encourage us all to sit up and pay attention to how the "i-revolution" may affect us and future audiences for our films. Festivals themselves are already adapting to new technologies by adding digital projection to existing film screening rooms. And I'm not aware of any major festival that doesn't actively use the Internet to promote itself and develop audiences using very sophisticated web sites.

As I screened short films on my desktop during the first virtual film festival on-line. I began to think about how I might respond if that were my work being streamed. Would I be happy with the quality of the image and sound? What was my contractual relationship with the exhibitor? Are my creative rights protected? What's the financial model for e-distribution? How will I know what the audience response is to my new film?

It's imperative that we as creative artists give serious and deliberate consideration to the issues that new technologies in distribution and exhibition pose now rather than down the road. Personally, I'm excited about being able to screen work with the convenience of logging on. But I also seek out films on the big screen because I happen to like being part of a larger audience. And I am likely to be a festival-goer well into the future.

Enjoy this issue of ID—it's an exciting exploration of film festivals and their importance to the documentary genre.


David Haugland
IDA President