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Notes from the Reel World: The President's Column, September-October 2007

By diane estelle Vicari

Dear IDA Community:

Some ten years ago, I clipped an article whose headline was "Documentaries Are Thriving." Its author, Peter S. Nichols, wrote that "strong nonfiction films find success in movies theaters and on video." We had finally arrived!

Fast forward to 2002, when Michael Moore hosted the 18th Annual IDA Awards Gala and pledged, to a cheering audience, to support and help the theatrical distribution of independent documentaries across America. We were filled with hope and dreams! Two years later, the box office for Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 surpassed the $100 million mark, and his latest, Sicko, is already the fifth highest grossing documentary of all time, having grossed nearly $16 million as we go to press! And according to, eight of the ten highest grossing docs of all time were released this decade.

Yet, as I have traveled the festival circuit over the last few years, the issue of theatrical release and distribution for independent filmmakers is another challenging hurdle. The cost of a theatrical release without a financial commitment from a distributor and/or benefactor on board has become nearly impossible! 

Over the last 11 years, many filmmakers have participated in our DocuWeekTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase in hope of launching their public theatrical exhibition. DocuWeekTM has proven to be a great success for many filmmakers in either getting distribution, which has enabled them to keep their films on the theatrical circuit, and for some to become Oscar nominees, and even Oscar winners. DocuWeekTM was created for that very purpose: to embrace, support and promote the distribution of documentaries.

This summer, IDA received a record number of astonishing films that have lifted the genre and represented one of the most competitive groups of films ever for consideration in DocuWeekTM. The films will screen in three theaters at The ArcLight Hollywood and in two theaters at The Landmark in West Los Angeles, from August 17 through 23.

However, the rules for qualifying one's documentary for Academy Award consideration present a new hurdle. Since 2005, the rules have changed significantly. (For more information, go to, or read "The Trouble with Oscar" in the March/April 2007 issue of Documentary magazine and at In order to meet the new qualifications, IDA has had to greatly expand DocuWeekTM, both physically and financially. Sadly, in spite of these substantial changes, there were far more brilliant films than what we could possibly include in the program.

For the 17 films in the 2007 program, chapeau to you! You lead the way in keeping the hopes and dreams of your fellow filmmakers alive! 

Make a point to put DocuWeekTM in your calendar, and bring your friends and family! As for IDA, in spite of new success stories, we have a very long way to go! So won't you please join us in our efforts? We all need you support!


diane estelle Vicari
IDA President