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FILM 211

Documentary Film

(cross-listed with ARTH 250 or COMM 291) This discussion-based course is structured thematically around such topics as representations of the family, subjectivity and selfhood, crime and justice, sexuality, trauma, and war propaganda. We view a wide variety of documentary styles: poetic, ethnographic, direct cinema, government sponsored, social advocacy, rockumentary, mockumentary, pseudo-documentary, and different hybrid forms. These styles and themes are used as springboards to explore larger questions: What is the source of our fascination with the real? How can documentary evoke discourses of truth, realism and authenticity when the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction have become ever more fluid; when digital technology makes possible the absence of any camera or original referent from the 'real' world; and when documentarians make use of strategies such as staging, re-enactments, discontinuous editing, or various poetic devices? What are the conventions of documentary film practice, that provide the necessary impression is the ethical responsibility of a filmmaker to his/her subjects who are, after all, not actors, but people going about the business of their lives? To understand better the complex nature of representation, we also take into account how context, expectations, institutional supports, viewing communities, cultural frameworks, and historical and social forces (and their interaction) all contribute to the making of meaning in visual images.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

Fall Semester information

James Paasche

211A: Documentary Film

This course is a critical examination of many facets of documentary cinema and its related forms. It will examine the history of documentary practice in the United States and around the world, focusing on filmmakers, films, institutions, and social movements important to this history. The course interrogates many of the issues (ethics, the influence of technology, politics, production and reception of "reality") pertinent to documentary practice. Students will learn how the historical features of one form, documentary film, can be seen in many other media forms (reality television, radio, and the Internet) and thus understand how a specific form becomes the template for media investigation in a much larger, cultural sense.