“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” director Mel Stuart will receive a special tribute in the form of a Pioneer Award from the International Documentary Association (IDA). Stuart will be feted by his peers during the 19th Annual IDA Distinguished Documentary Achievement Award ceremonies here on December 12 at the Directors Guild of America Theater.
“Mel Stuart richly deserves this recognition,” says IDA President Michael Donaldson. “His films have enlightened past and current audiences about some of the important stories of our times. They will endure for future generations. He is an inspiring and innovative filmmaker who has blazed new paths that many others have followed. Mel has also earned the respect and gratitude of documentary filmmakers everywhere in the world for his leadership, imagination and courage as an advocate for their rights.”
Stuart was born and raised in New York. He attended New York University and Columbia, where he initially focused on music. His interest shifted to visual storytelling during the early 1950s, when television was still a relatively new medium. Stuart worked as a researcher, and later as a director with Walter Cronkite on the CBS Television program The Twentieth Century, which pioneered the use of archived film footage.
“That’s when I met David Wolper,” Stuart says. “I worked with David for the first time as a film researcher on The Race to Space in 1959. There were only three of us when he organized David Wolper Productions in Los Angeles the following year. One of our first projects was The Making of the President (1960), which I directed.” Since that time, Stuart has been responsible for over 150 films.
Stuart was an early and active member of the IDA. He served as president of the organization twice and is still a member of the board of trustees. He also serves as co-chairman of the Documentary Credits Coalition, which was organized by the IDA when the one of the cable channels unveiled a plan to eliminate most on-air credits for filmmakers and replace them with mentions on a website.
“For hundreds of years, if you painted a picture, wrote music or created a sculpture, your name was attached to it,” Stuart says. “Recently some cable executives felt that we shouldn’t have that same right today. We took a firm stance because if one cable network could eliminate on-air documentary credits then the other networks would follow the practice. It was a very serious matter, affecting everyone in our industry. The IDA, along with the generous support of the various guilds and independent documentary organizations, managed to retain the practice of on-screen credits.”
Stuart has several documentaries currently in progress, including a series that profiles major American living poets. He is also producing a documentary about an extraordinary teacher at an inner city school in Los Angeles, whose curriculum for his class of nine-year-old fifth graders includes a performance by Hamlet.
“Mel Stuart has nurtured the careers of so many filmmakers,” says IDA Executive Director Sandra Ruch. “Unlike many people who rest on their laurels, Mel is an artist that continues to be curious about the state of the world, and understands the need to document it. He has sustained his passion for documentaries, and that is certainly the mark of a true pioneer. This is a wonderful opportunity for our members and the public to say thanks to Mel Stuart for everything he has done to make our world a better place.”