October 30, 2019

Notes from the Reel World: The Executive Director's Column, Fall 2019

Dear IDA Community,


Over the past 20 plus years working in this field, I have been very fortunate to travel around the world to various film festivals. Sometimes exhausting, but most often invigorating, being able to go to far-flung places of the world has given me the opportunity to meet filmmakers and see work that too often doesn’t make it to the United States. I have always been interested in seeing those films, experiencing cultures and stories with which I am less familiar, and watching work that doesn’t adhere to Western storytelling modes. But most of all, the chance to meet filmmakers from around the world has been the greatest pleasure.

Occasionally, one experience will stand out from rest, for a variety of reasons. This summer I was invited to serve on a jury at DokuFest in Kosovo. I’ve known about the festival for a long time, and whenever I heard people talk about DokuFest, they always had a certain glow about them.

Founded 18 years ago—two years after the end of the war in the Balkans—DokuFest is the ideal of what a festival can be. Its founders and early directors, Veton Nukoralli and Eroll Bilibani, knew that storytelling could help build bridges, illuminate our shared humanity and heal communities. They wanted to use documentaries to bring the world to Kosovo, and allow the people of Kosovo to have their stories brought to the world.

The international festival circuit is dominated by some major (and wonderful) festivals. But they are huge and can be difficult to navigate, and they are often where a lot of business and pitching gets done. But what makes festivals like DokuFest so important is the focus on films and community—the very things that motivated many of us to join this tribe. If you are ever feeling cynical about the documentary world, a week spent at DokuFest is a sure cure.

There you’ll get to experience films that you’ll never see in the US, with a particular focus on some amazing work coming out of the Balkans. You’ll meet a global and local community of filmmakers on a level playing field at the bar late at night. You’ll watch experimental docs outdoors in a castle on top of the hill, or political docs by the river. You’ll hear about the solar cinema that takes films around the country to parks to show docs to kids and their families.  You’ll see the power of community—of locals and international guests—coming together to share experiences.

At this time of year, where the focus increasingly turns to which films will make it onto awards lists, it is important to remember that this is a global documentary community, and there are many terrific films that won’t be part of the Oscars chatter, but that are just as deserving of our attention. Awards (including the IDA Documentary Awards) are fine, but let’s resist the temptation to use that as an excuse to ignore the work of so many filmmakers that is just as important.


Simon Kilmurry

Executive Director