Curator Statement

Where Culture Meets Politics: The Tenth Anniversary of PaleyDocFest

Over the past few years most forms of journalism are under attack, with questions raised about their relevance and future viability. Documentaries have been excluded from this intense scrutiny. Media critics realize how pivotal the form has been to the circulation of ideas among the public. Documentaries are the one type of long form journalism that works. Magazine and newspaper articles are getting shorter and punchier; documentaries in this digital age have remained consistent, in fact, many projects in many parts, conceived as a series for television. Although the genre has embraced such other modes as satire and animation, the documentary continues to be the place where audiences can understand the world in greater depth and complexity.

This year's PaleyDocFest underlines how documentary storytelling is essential in dissecting perplexing issues of twenty-first-century society. Contemporary documentaries are not ducking the problems and responsibilities of troubling times; nonfiction filmmakers are searching for characters and issues that can serve as an emblematic beacon of illumination and inspiration. In this year's selections, filmmakers are presenting real and vivid characters to tell a much larger story; through the travails and triumphs of these subjects we learn about the deeper issues of war and aging (The Way We Get By); racism (The Rise and Fall of Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder); alienation and the struggle for equal rights in Iran (The Glass House); and national division (Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall).

A major theme of this year's Festival is how our cultural life is intersecting and having impact on our political world. The first comprehensive profile of Joan Baez by American Masters shows how one courageous musician has used her art for over five decades to contemplate injustice and suffering. In Reporter we see how New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is searching to give a human face to a confounding African tragedy. The musicians and experts of RiP use collage and remixing as ways to question the practicality of copyright laws in this new media landscape. Barry Levinson's captivating meditation Poliwood observes little difference between Hollywood and the Beltway: entertainment and politics have become totally intertwined.

This tenth anniversary of PaleyDocFest not only continues to testify to the strength and diversity of the contemporary documentary, but also looks at how young talent is replenishing the form. Two of our annual traditions, the Pitch Workshop and Docu-Jam: A Youth Documentary Showcase, encourage fledgling filmmakers to present new ideas and techniques in nonfiction to a larger community. Dialogue has always been the defining element of our Festival and we invite your comments on this website and after our screenings.

I would like to thank our two enterprising interns who contributed so much to this Festival: Richard Burst-Lazarus and Daniel Ray.

—Ron Simon, Curator, Television and Radio


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