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Notes From The Reel World, The Executive Director's Column: Winter 2020

By Simon Kilmurry

Rachel Lears accepting the Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award

Dear Documentary Community,

In early December 2019, we gathered for the 35th annual IDA Documentary Awards. It was an evening to celebrate the very best documentary storytelling of the past year—to celebrate the bravery and the artistry and the persistence and the vision of documentary makers, and to thank those whose stories have been told for their generosity and courage. 

We honored some singular voices whose work inspires us: Freida Lee Mock and her unparalleled and ongoing legacy of telling stories that matter; Waad al-Kateab, who lived through and documented the Syrian War, resulting in For Sama, a riveting, ground-level account of that traumatic crisis; Rachel Lears and her inspiring story of ordinary people making extraordinary change in Knock Down the House; and Leah Remini, boldy standing up to speak truth to power in her series Scientology and its Aftermath. Likewise, we honored those who make this work possible—groups such as Cinereach, who have supported the work of a whole new generation of visionary filmmakers, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who stalwartly supports the rights of filmmakers to tell these vital stories (and is a key partner in IDA's Enterprise Documentary Fund).

Supporting the rights of filmmakers is central to our work, and to that end, IDA partnered with the Knight First Amendment Institute, the Brennan Center for Justice and Doc Society to file a lawsuit against the US Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security to challenge new visa requirements for people visiting the US. These new requirements demand that visa applicants surrender five years of social media information, which will be retained permanently—even if those accounts are anonymous. After surveying IDA’s international members, we feel that these requirements threaten the free speech rights of filmmakers and possibly their safety, and diminish the rights of Americans to hear the voices of filmmakers working around the globe. Stand by for more news on the lawsuit as it makes its way through the courts. 

Looking ahead to 2020, more than 1,000 documentary professionals will gather at Getting Real—one of the largest documentary conferences in North America—to learn from each other and foster stronger networks. Save the dates—September 22-24, 2020—and be on the lookout for an open call to solicit your ideas for the conference.

In January 2020, our Enterprise Documentary Production Fund will be open for applications; the deadline for this cycle is March 1. We will distribute grants of over $850,000 to filmmakers working on creative documentaries that incorporate journalistic practice into their process.

2019 was a great year that saw much important work done, and 2020 is shaping up to be IDA's biggest year to date. None of this can be accomplished without your support and membership. For that, we thank you and we look forward to working with you in the year ahead.

With gratitude,

Simon Kilmurry

Executive Director