Questioning the IDA about its list of best documentaries.

Diane Estelle Vicari

The International Documentary Association, based in Los Angeles, recently released its list of the 25 best documentaries of all times. It was published in the 25th anniversary special edition of the organization’s magazine, as well as on its web site. I was a little shocked to see this list, because almost all of the films mentioned are U.S.-made, English-language films. You have to go all the way down to position 20 to find the first European films, and docs from other continents are nowhere to be seen. Shortly after seeing the list I had the opportunity to meet the president of the IDA, Diane Estelle Vicari. I asked her if the list isn’t distorting the history and reality of doc production ?

“The way we came to this final list is the following. An assigned committee among the board of directors started by establishing a list of more then 600 titles and posted it on our web site, and asked our members to vote. We also asked and provided our members the ability to do the following: “if we’ve missed any of your favorites you may add up to five titles at the end of the list.” which many did. And the list grew. But the vast majority of our members are from the U.S. and Canada. Also, a lot of older and more established film makers who have a better knowledge of the history and scope of documentary making are actually not members of the IDA, while many younger filmmakers are. They are mainly the ones who voted, and that shows in the result.”

How do you personally feel about the result ?

“I do think it’s truly sad that the younger generation of filmmakers is not more aware of the
history and international realities of doc making. This can in some measure
be blamed on the media in the U.S., as it mainly focus on the very narrow field of “commercially” released documentary every year which in the end creates a narrow view for all. I would like to see younger filmmakers as well as audiences discover and learn more so that they may find a balance between old and new, films from here and from abroad.”

But then doesn’t the IDA’s list help aggravate that situation, by creating
the impression that most important docs are recent American ones. This won’t
encourage them to go further afield, will it ?

‘There is certainly no sure way of measuring the direct impact of the 25 Best List in the short term. When debating this process, the board of directors of IDA was clear that no matter what the outcome, it would create heated conversations about documentaries; the titles included as well as the titles off the list. It is only through dialogue and exchange of information that our constituents will learn more. The list has now gone beyond our website, — it is being discussed with much passion on blogs, among filmmakers and audiences. It is my wish that it crosses the un-limitless borders of the internet and continues to create debate. We, at the IDA are in discussion about a release of all other titles in the near future.”

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Magnus Isacsson

As an independent documentary filmmaker I have made some fifteen films dealing with social, political and environmental issues. Previously I was a television and radio producer. I was born in Sweden in 1948, immigrated to Canada in 1970. I live with Jocelyne and our daughter Béthièle in Montreal, and my older daughter Anna lives in Toronto.