FS20150 Documentary and Society

Academic Year 2021/2022

This module examines the nature, role and function of documentary film. It critically assesses the relationship between concepts of social reality and the construction of social consensus through the means of documentary, which is a mode of communication and discourse that has occupied a crucial juncture between speculation and inscription since the beginning of cinema. Documentary film has been a key site where concepts of reality itself, which are vital in the process of cognitive and social validation upon which identity relies, are continually in focus and yet which are subject to economic, political, ideological, and cultural processes both of production and reception. This module introduces students to documentary film from a range of historical, aesthetic, and theoretical perspectives. Students will examine a selection of key films and will learn to correlate issues of form, ethics, and representation across eras as appropriate. Critical readings from leading writers in the field including Bill Nichols, Brian Winston, and Betsy McClane will be examined.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module students should have a working knowledge of the history of documentary film coupled with a sense of theoretical and critical perspectives informing the intersections between documentary and social process. Students should have an informed awareness of the ethical, formal and representational frameworks of documentary and be able to read appropriate theoretical arguments in relation to the form. By the completion of the module, students should be able to produce intermediate level scholarly analysis of the form based on the above.

Indicative Module Content:

Contact content will consist of lectures and a weekly tutored screening. There are no formal tutorials, but there will be a seminar style discussion after the film each week, and there will also be a formal introduction to the film itself. Weekly reading lists will be provided. Assessment will be by means of essays and learning journal.

Indicative content (subject to change)
Documentary forms, styles, and genres
History and theory of documentary
Ethical theory and ethical frames in documentary practice and audience engagement
Poetic documentary and narrative structure
Rhetorical documentary and social consensus
Political and ideological frames of documentary production
Concept of propaganda and historical uses
The emergence of observation
Objectivity and subjectivity
Documentary activism and engagement
Performative documentaries and the contemporary media environment
Documentary and post-truth
Paranoia and post-fact
Nature and environmentalism
The frame of history - filming what is no longer filmable
Memory, testimony, identity
Docudrama and docufictions: imagining reality
Self and other: documenting difference and conflict - pluralism?
Documentary and death: the ultimate reality - ethics, perspectives, meaning

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Autonomous Student Learning










Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
2020/21 arrangements will be in keeping with public health advice and University guidelines in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Notations have been added to the descriptor.

Students are expected to attend lectures, which provide an introduction to a body of theory and to a case study each week that illustrates some of the questions raised. Lectures are only one component of delivery, though and do not stand on their own as completion of required learning activity. There will be a weekly screening to facilitate first-hand encounters with the material in a social environment insofar as this can be facilitated by the University. There will also be small group teaching where students will engage both with a tutor and with one another to reflect on readings, screenings, and lecture materials as well as prepare for assessment submissions. There are required weekly readings from selected textbooks, but there is always an invitation to extend your studies beyond that to the body of publication accessible through the library. As a level two module, this course will require an intermediate level of knowledge of the relevant vocabulary and theories of film introduced at level one. It will build upon key skills and knowledge typically acquired at level one, developing confidence with the application of that knowledge to intermediate scholarship. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations
Learning Recommendations:

Students are recommended to have taken at least one film studies module at level one, preferably more than one. It would be useful to be familiar with the core text books used in level one film studies.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Essay: Mid-term assignment Week 6 n/a Graded No


Essay: Final essay Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Participation & Engagement Throughout the Trimester n/a Pass/Fail Grade Scale No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Written feedback will be available on all submitted mid-term and final essays, and students are invited to attend consultation to discuss this further with tutors or the module co-ordinator. There will also usually be some general feedback notes either discussed in tutorials or accessible on BrightSpace. General consultation is available on a weekly basis for all students throughout the trimester, including during preparation of assessment, but drafts will not be read prior to summative assessment.

Indicative reading list (subject to change):

Fox, Broderick, Documentary media : history, theory, practice (2nd edition), Routledge, 2018.
Kahana, Jonathan (ed.), The Documentary Film Reader, Oxford University Press, 2016.
McLane, Betsy A., A New History of Documentary (second edition), New York and London, Continuum Publishing, 2012.
Nichols, Bill, Introduction to Documentary (third edition), Bloomington & Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 2017.
Winston, Brian (ed.), The Documentary Film Book, London: BFI/Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.