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Notes From The Reel World, Summer 2020

By Simon Kilmurry

Dear IDA Community,

It has been a dizzying and discombobulating six months since the coronavirus upended our lives, forcing us to stay at home and completely re-evaluate how we approach our work.  

It has been a few short months since the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others, ignited a reckoning around systemic racism and injustice — also calling on us to re-evaluate how we approach our work.

Despite the pain and suffering that these situations have caused, they are forcing innovation, reflections and, hopefully, change.

We are an industry that values coming together—at screenings, at festivals. But that’s a model of working that is built on excluding people. It’s expensive to travel to festivals, beyond the budget of most filmmakers. The old model of premiering at an “A-list” festival is broken; we have an opportunity to redefine success.

It’s been exciting to see how quickly organizations have adapted. Communities are coming together in new ways and voices that had previously been excluded are finally being centered.

Firelight Media’s Beyond Resilience seminars has become an essential online community which can be joined from anywhere in the world. BlackStar Film Festival is rightfully attracting buzz and new audiences to their films and panels, with passes that just about anyone can afford. Brown Girls Doc Mafia is on fire—making change and holding the field to account.

Normally, IDA would be in the final stretch of planning for our biennial Getting Real conference.  But like others we are being forced to adapt and change—and we are better for that. We recognize the financial pressure faced by many in our community, so the virtual Getting Real will be free to attend. And the programming through the themes of ACCESS, POWER and POSSIBILITY will engage with this moment of change asking hard questions about what’s broken in this field and asking us to reimagine a new future.

There will be a time when this pandemic will be over and we can come together in person again. I desperately look forward to that time—I miss seeing my friends in this field; I miss watching their films in a theater with a crowd. But I hope we can retain some of the good things that have come out of this time. I hope we will be sure to keep giving opportunities to attend events virtually—recognizing that many people cannot travel, that it is expensive, that it’s bad for the environment, and that it acts as an enormous barrier of entry for new voices in documentary. 

And, I am hopeful that the reckoning around racial justice will force changes in an industry and practice rife with inequalities—no matter how progressive we may like to think this field is.

As I said, it has been a dizzying and discombobulating six months—but out of that is being born a real optimism that change is possible. I remain hopeful and I hope you do too.

Stay safe,

Simon Kilmurry

Executive Director