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2021 Spring


Mary Angiolillo
For information about registration please contact our admissions.

This course surveys the history and contemporary vitality of non-fiction films, teaching students to appreciate the social significance and aesthetic possibilities of the form that is considered the taproot of cinema. The curriculum is divided into three sections: in the first, we identify the distinctive development and attributes of documentary; the second explores the range of subjects these films can address, using the largest human rights festival in Europe as a practical laboratory for writing about their topics, and the third outlines documentary’s current characteristics, as a historical chronicle, free associative essay, tester of truth, and ongoing inspiration for fiction films.
Course Contents
(Origins and Definitions, Creative Choices: Technologies and Approaches,Social Effects,
Modes and Experiments)
(Writing about Documentary, Documentary and the Group, Documentary and Individual Performance, Documentary and the Body,Documentary and Memory)
(Documentary as a Historical Chronicle, Documentary as a Playful Essay, Documentary Plays with Truth ,Documentary Inspires Fiction)

Here is the course outline:

1. Documentary Film Course Introduction

Feb 8

Introductory Lesson

2. Early documentaries

Feb 15

We will understand the conditions surrounding the emergence of early documentary film; identify the first documentary filmmakers; discuss the landmark film Nanook; understand expository mode of documentary. The Lumiere and company project is described and assigned.

3. Film Truth, City Symphonies

Feb 22

We will discuss Vertov’s theories of film truth, and look at a subgenre of documentary popular in the 1920s - the City Symphony film. Clips screened from Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera and other city symphony films, including Rain by J. Ivens, 1929. Reflexive and poetic modes of documentary discussed. Questions related to "Fascination with Reality" exercise clarified.

4. Lumiere exercise (Fascination with Reality)

Mar 1

We will screen the short "Lumiere and Company" /Fascination with Reality exercises (to be uploaded before class)

5. Lesson on British Film Movement and Propaganda

Mar 8

Lesson on British Documentary Film Movement and Propaganda

6. Lesson on Direct Cinema and Cinema Verité

Mar 15

Lesson on Direct Cinema and Cinema Verité - March 30

7. Mamacita by Jose Pablo Estrada Torrescano

We will visit with the director of Mamacita via Zoom. We start on Microsoft Teams and move from there so be on time for class.

8. Documentary Storytelling - Re-enactments

Discussion of storytelling techniques in documentary. Clips from The Thin Blue Line (Errol Moore, 1988) and The Children’s March (Robert Houston, 1963) are screened to compare re-enactments. Performative mode of documentary discussed.

9. Topic: Documentary Storytelling; narrative principles

Discussion of how non-fiction films rely on storytelling. Exploring storytelling tools, 3-act structure; analysis of Daughter from Danang for three-act structure

10. Meeting with Eilat Ben Eliyahu

Apr 2

We will meet with the director of This too could happen to discuss her film and process.

11. Documentary activism Description: Michael Moore

We will discuss the development of a documentary treatment + focus on documentary activism through the films of Michael Moore, looking at clips from films, discussing technique and themes. We will watch the extended clip from Sicko (2007).

12. Lesson on Time-Lapse documentary

Characteristics and method for preparation of time-lapse documentaries. Discussion of work by Helena Trestikova, with screening of her film Rene.

13. Preparing the treatment and Pitch

Treatments and proposals for launching and developing documentary projects. Test (objective answer) on material from class related to documentary subgenres and modes, techniques used by filmmakers.

14. Pitching the Projects

Students pitch their documentary projects as if to a panel of potential producers (role played by class members)

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