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Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, September 1995

By Peter Stuart

For those of you who are unaware, our 2nd International Documentary Congress is scheduled in Los Angeles for this coming October: four weeks of screenings and special events, which will culminate in three days of seminars, panel discussions, and, finally, the IDA Awards celebration. Several years ago, the IDA, in conjunction with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, put on the first congress. It was a huge success. Credit must go to former IDA President Jon Wilkman and to Harrison Engle for their contributions to the event.

Two years later the two organizations decided to stage an encore. Stage is the right word; it's similar in many respects to producing a complicated play. First, funds had to be raised. In this case, the NEA supported us with a large matching grant. Thanks to the contributions of a growing list of corporate sponsors, the NEA money was secured. Next came six months of long, grueling hours of committee meetings to shape the production and shape it more. Ahead of us lies the logistical nightmare of the production itself. Among other concerns, arrangements have to be made to bring dozens of filmmakers, distributors, and film and TV executives from around the world to Los Angeles. (I know for certain that a catering truck will be an hour late for at least one lunch, and a print of an important film will arrive with a reel missing.) Finally, there's the show itself, which we hope will be provocative, informative, and entertaining for IDA and academy members, the industry, and the general public. Here are some of the goodies to be presented.

From September 26 to October 30, a major series of programs under the theme "In and Out of the Cold, 1945-1995: Documenting 50 Years of Change" will commemorate 50 years of nonfiction filmmaking, much of it affected by the worldwide political struggle.  Some "In and Out of the Cold" events to look forward to are: September 27-0ctober 2, films on "Neo-Fascist, Skinheads, and Political Extremists" at the Museum of Tolerance; October 18, "The Wolper Documentary: Creating New Concepts for Television" at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; October 20-22, a weekend of films and discussions tackling the subjects of exile and immigration, presented by UCLA Film and Television Archive in conjunction with Visual Communications and the Chavez Center; and October 24, at the Directors Guild, Michael Apted moderating a panel of filmmakers who float between fiction and documentary films. This list represents just the tip of the iceberg.  Documentary films will be screening all over Los Angeles almost everyday in October. A complete schedule will be sent to you soon.

"In and Out of the Cold" leads up to the actual congress, from October 25 to 27, which will comprise a series of seminars, roundtable discussions, and intimate talks with filmmakers. Some of the themes include "Creativity in the New Media," examining the new and emerging technologies for the nonfiction filmmaker; "DM+£+$+¥+? =Success " (my favorite title), during which an international cadre of panelists will discuss the advantages and pitfalls of coproductions; "Multi-Market Chop Shop" (my second favorite title), investigating new ideas for documentary packaging and alternative sources of revenue; and "The British Model," a panel discussion moderated by Michael Apted and focusing on the history and success of British documentary production and funding.  In addition, we will hold intimate sessions entitled "At One With...," spotlighting renowned nonfiction filmmakers such as Bob Drew, Marina Goldovskaya, Henry Hampton, Ricky Leacock, AlLle Light, and Dennis O'Rourke.

Topping off the month, on October 27 we will hold the 11th Annual IDA Awards celebration, in which we will honor the five winners of the IDA Distinguished Documentary Achievement Awards and the recipient of the IDA/David L. Wolper Student Achievement Award. The Preservation and Scholarship Award will be given to Roger Mayer of Turner Broadcasting and the Career Achievement Award to famed European filmmaker Marcel Ophuls. I particularly enjoyed a passage from Ophuls’ acceptance letter: "The only thing I'm extremely reluctant to do, on any such occasion, is to give long formal speeches worked out in advance. I've found that fellow documentarians tend to turn bored, fidgety, and moderately hostile when being lectured to by their peers." There will be a special tribute to Ophuls at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on October 25, and on October 29 there will be a screening of his newest film, The Troubles We've Seen.

For those unable to attend, we will make available transcripts of many of the seminars. I hope IDA members in and around Los Angeles will be able to join us for at least a few of the events.

Finally, all of us at the IDA want to thank the members of the IDA and academy congress committees for the time and effort they have spent and will be spending in creating this extraordinary event.