February 5, 2006
Seeing the world through the eyes of non-fiction filmmakers
This past week, approximately 1200 non-fiction filmmakers,
television executives and others who work in or around that
business descended upon Washington, D.C. for an annual event,
the REAL SCREEN Conference, named after the magazine that
puts it together.
The networking is tremendous. At least a couple of dozen
executives who didn"t register; showing
up to simply work the lobby, to see old friends and have meetings
because everyone was there. This is a conference that gives
people in the business a reason for gathering in a fairly
intimate setting and provides the opportunity to demonstrate
that you are a player in the non-fiction world.
Probably not unsurprisingly, the conference had a fair amount
of talk about 9/11, the fifth anniversary of which is coming
upon us and any number of companies are out there with 9/11
non-fiction films, remembering the event, while buyers are
telling producers they are looking for a "special"
take on it. No one is quite sure they know what that means;
they do know they are looking for a new way to see this history
One of the companies I am working with has the exclusive
rights to the archives of St. Paul"s Chapel,
"the little church that stood."
It was to this place that thousands of letters and memorials
came, a repository of the world"s anguish
over the event, including thousands of messages from children
who expressed their feelings via art.
As we talked with executives or other producers about this
project, I, once again, realized this event is a wound which
has scabbed over but has not healed. An American born executive
now living in the U.K. confided she has been unable to go
back to lower Manhattan, where she once lived. A Canadian
production executive got tears in her eyes when she started
speaking of her reactions to it.
In describing our vision of the 9/11 show, I found myself
having to exercise great self-control as I recalled watching
a woman collapse in tears in front of St. Paul"s
as she gazed at the makeshift memorial hung on the chapel"s
fence in those dreary days in early 2002 when downtown Manhattan
had just reopened.
It seems impossible 9/11 is now five years past. On some
levels it feels as if it was yesterday and on others it seems
as if it were a hundred years ago. Everything that has been
shaping this country has followed from that day.
Non fiction filmmakers tend to be left of center and Real
Screen provided an opportunity for many to be able to avoid
the State of the Union address. Many commented they had reached
a point where the very sound of Bush"s voice
was like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Those who saw it, or studied it the following day, generally
seemed to agree with the international press and its reactions:
small substance and mediocre performance, coupled with a failure
to genuinely address issues amidst clever phrasing.
"What we have here is failure to communicate,"
is the famous phrase from the iconic film, COOL HAND LUKE.
I am afraid, having viewed a bit of the foreign reaction to
the State of the Union that the world views us as having a
government that is failing to govern. Rule, perhaps, but not
It was also the week that saw the death of Coretta Scott
King, widow of Martin Luther King, another link to that period
severed, when the tumultuous "60"s
provided us with shock after shock as JFK, Martin Luther King
and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated against the backdrop of
a world crying for justice and peace.
The Baby Boomers, the generation which will NOT go quietly
into that good night, should perhaps think of turning their
twilight energy into once again addressing the sources of
wrong which galvanized our youth. They still exist while we
seek to lengthen our lives and derive full comfort from the
sacrifices of our fathers. Politically, as a generation, we
seem to be retreating into gated communities where we can
blot out the issues we are leaving to our children and grandchildren.
If this is true, it will be an odd end for such a noisy generation.