The D-Word

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The D-Word is a worldwide online community for professionals in the documentary film industry. Discussions include creative, business, technical, and social topics related to documentary filmmaking.

The name "D-Word" is defined as "industry euphemism for documentary", as in: "We love your film but we don't know how to sell it. It's a d-word."[1]


The D-Word is the longest-running online platform in the documentary industry. It was established in 1999 in New York City by filmmaker Doug Block and writer and online community builder Dan Richards[2] as a result of Block's feature documentary, Home Page, and encouraged by protagonists of this film, Justin Hall and Howard Rheingold.[3]

Block continues to be a co-host of The D-Word, together with documentary makers Ben Kempas (between 2001-2014); John Burgan (between 2005-2018); Marjan Safinia (from 2009); Erica Ginsberg (from 2011); Niam Itani (from 2013); and Paul Szynol (between 2016-2018). The site's bespoke platform software was designed and written by co-host and webmaster Peter Gerard.

Members of The D-Word engaged in two collaborative projects, composed of short films themed around Essays on Docs, a reflection on filmmaking, as well as War and Peace, the community's reaction to the September 11, 2001 attacks. A novelty at the time, these films were streamed online and presented at industry events like the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.

As of May 2018, according to the website's database, The D-Word has more than 15,900 members in 127 countries.


For her dissertation on the success of an online community, Lara Celini chose The D-Word as the case study: "The D-Word Community provides an interesting example of an online community that harnesses the power of the technology to help meet the demands of today’s fast-paced, international media environment, connecting documentary professionals on a level that was never previously possible without huge expenses and co-ordination."[4]

Celini found the facilitation of moderated ongoing conversations to be a key factor for the success of The D-Word, making it unique in comparison to simple bulletin boards or email lists.


Members of The D-Word are professionals in various fields of the documentary film industry. Some are very experienced filmmakers, including nominees for the Academy Awards, such as James Longley for Iraq in Fragments.[5]

Membership in The D-Word is free but not automatic. Applicants submit a request to the hosts who will consider each application based on the applicant's track record, references, and location.[1]

The D-Word has been criticized for this restrictive approach and for the use of an outdated conferencing platform.[4] The hosts reacted to this by adding public discussions and building their own internet forum software (developed and maintained by co-host Peter Gerard) tailored to the needs of the membership.

Public discussions[edit]

In addition to the private community, The D-Word hosts week-long public discussions, moderated by the hosts, featuring guest experts from the documentary world. Past guests include Anand Patwardhan, Albert Maysles, Sandi Simcha DuBowski, Ross McElwee. These discussions remain archived on the public part of the site.[6]

The D-Word's public discussions have explored topics such as "Reaching a Wider Audience" with Lance Weiler; a conference on the use of social networks like MySpace by filmmakers; a panel on new online distribution platforms for documentaries, and reactions by broadcasters to the broadband developments. Other conferences have focused on ethical issues in documentary practice (with Patricia Aufderheide of the Center for Social Media).


The D-Word works closely with documentary organisations like the European Documentary Network. In the past, public discussions were supported by the Independent Feature Project in New York.

Members regularly attend International Face 2 Face meetings at industry events such as the Sheffield International Documentary Festival, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) or Silverdocs, close to Washington DC.


  1. ^ a b The D-Word official website
  2. ^ DO YOU KNOW THE D-WORD? [1]
  3. ^ Hudson, David (1998-08-04). "A Search for Ourselves and the Future". Spiegel Online 32/1998.
  4. ^ a b Celini, Lara (2005). "What makes an online community successful? A Case Study of The D-Word Community". Dissertation. Stirling: University of Stirling. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  5. ^ Academy Awards database James Longley
  6. ^ [2] public discussions

Other sources[edit]