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Prime Real Estate: House of Docs

By Betsy McLane

Building on the success of 2000, the Sundance Film Festival again proved its commitment to the documentary by offering an expanded 2001 version of “House of Docs.” In a new, bigger, friendlier Main Street location -- and with a schedule running January 19-27 -- response from attendees was justifiably enthusiastic. Under the very capable leadership of Sundance Director of the Documentary Film Program, Nicole Guillemet, and her associate Meredith Lavit, documentary professionals debated, networked, questioned, drank coffee and nursed their sniffles in an environment that offered precious shelter from the cold and commercialism outside.

There were a number of informative and stimulating formal discussions that covered subjects ranging from grant-based funding (“Finance Roundtable”) to the relationship between still documentary photography and moving image documentaries (“Crossing Over: Doc Photographers and Filmmakers”). The mix of practicality with a genuine concern for aesthetics and craft is one of the great things about House of Docs. An exhibit of stills from DoubleTake magazine (recently separated from the DoubleTake Film Festival) set a compelling artistic tone. A leisurely and productive workshop with veteran filmmaker Jon Else ranged from nuts-and-bolts production to pie-in-the-sky dreaming.

Attracting filmmakers of such caliber is another Sundance strengthHere else could one find the mixed all-star panel of George Butler, Susan Froemke, Barbara Hammer, Chris Hegedus, Al Maysles and D.A. Pennebaker moderated by Festival Director Goeffrey Gilmore for “Surviving and Thriving – Docs Then and Now.” Another highlight was the panel featuring the House of Docs 2001 Advisory Board—Nick Fraser of BBC, Pat Mitchell of PBS and Sheila Nevins of HBO, moderated by Sundance Institute Director Ken Brecker. This panel tackled the subject “Documentary Film: Future, Conscience, and Possibility.” There may have been no answers to such big questions, but the intellectual “frisson” created by the finely sharpened minds of these four was a rare treat.

House of Docs Sponsors included The Soros Documentary Fund, Diesel, HBO/Cinemax, PBS, VH1, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Artisan Entertainment.


Betsy A. McLane is Director Emeritus of International Documentary Association.