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Notes from the Reel World: The President's Column, May 2005

By Richard Propper

Dear IDA Members,

As reported in The New York Times and on National Public Radio, a new media phenomenon has come into being-Video News Releases (VNRs). It's very interesting how these play on national and local channels. Catching up on the day's news, you could watch a 90-second report that passes itself off as a normal in-house story. One problem, though: The reporter's name is fictitious and the entire piece was created by a public relations firm that was hired by the White House-and paid for by the US taxpayers. 

According to NPR, 30 government agencies are in full swing financing the production of a variety of these reports. This strikes me as not just shocking, but incredibly short-sighted by the broadcast news companies that air these reports. Where is the news business headed? Hopefully our membership is working on more sincere endeavors.

Do you know of an "orphan work?" You've probably come upon a few while producing your latest documentary. Our past president, Michael Donaldson, is currently working on an exciting new program regarding orphan works. Producers who cannot find the rightful owners of a piece of footage should be able to use it if a mechanism is in place to compensate them when they are found. This is a huge step forward as more and more footage comes out of vaults and garages and U-Stor-Its around the world. If this initiative moves forward, the IDA will hopefully play a role in its design so that documentary filmmakers will benefit. You will hear more about this in coming issues of International Documentary.

IDA is gearing up for our next InFACTTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase. If selected, your theatrical documentary can enjoy the requisite first steps of a qualifying run for Academy Award consideration. There are a number of rules to keep in mind for this process (go to and for more details), but last year IDA qualified the Academy Award-winner Born Into Brothels, as well as Hardwood, a nominee in the short subject category.

Pursuing a theatrical release is a tough road. Yes, you can book various theaters yourself and promote your film, but the IDA is here to help the documentary film community. InFACTTM was created to help filmmakers get their films off the ground and into the mainstream. Focus your time on the larger goals of producing a great documentary and the IDA can work to help you get your film up on the big screen.


Until next time,

Richard Propper
IDA President