Documentary Film: An Introduction
  I: Administrative Information   II: Course Details   III: Topical Outline(s)  Printable Version
Section I: Administrative Information
  Total hours: 42.0
Credit Value: 3.0
Credit Value Notes: N/A
Effective: Spring/Summer 2018
Prerequisites: N/A
Corequisites: N/A
Equivalents: N/A
Pre/Co/Equiv Notes: N/A

Program(s): General Education
Program Coordinator(s): Sarah Sinclair
Course Leader or Contact: Mike Baker
Version: 20180507_00
Status: Approved (APPR)

Section I Notes: N/A

Section II: Course Details

Detailed Description
Students critically examine documentary films from acclaimed international film-makers as an evolutionary process - from early achievements to current productions. Three major different approaches to documentary film-making are investigated. Determining films that are documents of "reality" attempting to reveal "truths" establishes the first part of the course. Secondly, students scrutinize films that are propagandistic or powerfully persuasive and recognize their construction and methods. Lastly, students analyze films by contemporary non-fiction filmmakers as to their personal visions and expressions. There are screenings, interactive lectures, reflective journal work and guided discussions.

Program Context

General Education Program Coordinator(s): Sarah Sinclair
This course is part of the General Education curriculum which is designed to contribute to the development of the students' consciousness of the diversity, complexity, and richness of the human experience; their ability to establish meaning through this consciousness; and, as a result, their ability to contribute thoughtfully, creatively, and positively to the society in which they live and work. General Education courses strengthen students' generic skills, such as critical analysis, problem solving, and communication, in the context of an exploration of topics with broad-based personal and/or societal importance.

Course Critical Performance and Learning Outcomes

  Critical Performance:
By the end of this course, students will have demonstrated the ability to determine what constitutes documentary films, scrutinize the methods of persuasive film production, and analyze contemporary non-fiction films.
Learning Outcomes:

To achieve the critical performance, students will have demonstrated the ability to:

  1. Examine various approaches to documentary film-making.
  2. Identify the on-going process involving international film production.
  3. Investigate documentary films that attempt to expose "realities".
  4. Scrutinize persuasive documentary film-making methods.
  5. Analyze the personal visions and expressions of contemporary non-fiction film-makers.
  6. Engage in topical discussions related to documentary film presentations.
  7. Explore further concepts of documentary film interpretations.

Evaluation Plan
Students demonstrate their learning in the following ways:

 Evaluation Plan: IN-CLASS
 Five In-class assignments (5 @ 5%)25.0%
 Mid-term test25.0%
 Research Essay25.0%
 Final Exam25.0%

Evaluation Notes and Academic Missed Work Procedure:
TEST AND ASSIGNMENT PROTOCOL To encourage behaviours that will help students to be successful in the workplace and to ensure that students receive credit for their individual work, the following rules apply to every course offered within the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. 1. Students are responsible for staying abreast of test dates and times, as well as due dates and any special instructions for submitting assignments and projects as supplied to the class by the professor. 2. Students must write all tests at the specified times. Missed tests, in-class activities, assignments and presentations are awarded a mark of zero. If an extension or make-up opportunity is approved by the professor as outlined below, the mark of zero may be revised by subsequent performance. The penalty for late submission of written assignments is a loss of 10% per day for up to five business days (excluding weekends and statutory holidays), after which, a grade of zero is assigned. Business days include any day that the college is open for business, whether the student has scheduled classes that day or not. 3. Students, who miss a test or in-class activity or assignment or fail to submit an assignment on time due to exceptional circumstances, are required to notify their professor in advance of the class whenever possible. A make-up test may be supplied for students who provide an acceptable explanation of their absence and/or acceptable documentation explaining their absence (e.g., a medical certificate). All make-up tests are to be written at a time and place specified by the professor upon the student's return. Alternately, students may be given an opportunity to earn the associated marks by having a subsequent test count for the additional marks. Exceptional circumstances may result in a modification of due dates for assignments. 4. Unless otherwise specified, assignments and projects must be submitted at the beginning of class. 5. Students must complete every assignment as an individual effort unless, the professor specifies otherwise. 6. Since there may be instances of grade appeal or questions regarding the timely completion of assignments and/or extent of individual effort, etc., students are strongly advised to keep, and make available to their professor, if requested, a copy of all assignments and working notes until the course grade has been finalized. 7. There will be no resubmission of work unless this has been previously agreed to or suggested by the professor. 8. Students must submit all assignments in courses with practical lab and field components in order to pass the course.

Provincial Context
The course meets the following Ministry of Colleges and Universities requirements:


Essential Employability Skills
Essential Employability Skills emphasized in the course:

  • Communication Skills - Communicate clearly, concisely and correctly in the written, spoken, visual form that fulfills the purpose and meets the needs of the audience.
  • Critical Thinking & Problem Solving Skills - Use a variety of thinking skills to anticipate and solve problems.

General Education
This General Education course relates to the following themes as specified by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.

  • Arts In Society

Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition
PLAR Contact (if course is PLAR-eligible) - Office of the Registrar
Students may apply to receive credit by demonstrating achievement of the course learning outcomes through previous relevant work/life experience, service, self-study and training on the job. This course is eligible for challenge through the following method(s):

  • Challenge Exam
    Notes:  N/A
  • Portfolio
    Notes:  N/A
  • Interview
    Notes:  N/A

Section III: Topical Outline
Some details of this outline may change as a result of circumstances such as weather cancellations, College and student activities, and class timetabling.
Instruction Mode: In-Class
Professor: Multiple Professors
OptionalOtherElectronic resources made available via SLATE

Applicable student group(s): General Education Elective
Course Details:
Week 1:  Introductions
Screenings: Man on Wire (James Marsh, USA, 2008)
Week 2:  The Origins of Nonfiction Film
Screenings: Eadweard Muybridge’s Motion Studies (c. 1872); excerpts from Thomas Edison’s
Kinetograph (c. 1891) and the Lumière Brother’s Cinématographe (c. 1895)
Week 3:  The Dawn of Documentary Filmmaking
Readings: Patricia Aufderheide, “Form” & “Founders” from Documentary Film: A Very Short
Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007): 25-43.
Screenings: excerpts from Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, USA, 1922), Man With A Movie
Camera (Dziga Vertov, USSR, 1929), Night Mail (Basil Wright and Harry Watt, UK, 1936)
In-class Assignment #1 - 5%
Week 4:  WWII Documentary: Propaganda and the Postwar Turn
Readings: Nicholas Reeves, “Introduction” from The Power of Film Propaganda: Myth or Reality?
(London: Continuum, 2003): 1-13.
Screenings: excerpts from Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, GER, 1935), Churchill’s Island
(Stuart Legg, CAN, 1941), Wings on Her Shoulder (Jane Marsh, CAN, 1943), Let There Be Light
(John Huston, USA, 1946)
Week 5:  How Do Documentaries Tell Their Stories?
Readings: Bill Nichols, “What Gives Documentary Films a Voice of their Own?” from Introduction
to Documentary, 2nd ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010): 67-93.
Screenings: excerpts from Lonely Boy (Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor, CAN, 1962), Night and
Fog (Alain Resnais, FRA, 1955), Rape (JoAnn Elam, USA, 1975), Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette,
USA, 2003)
In-class Assignment #2 - 5%
Week 6:  The Nature Documentary
Readings: Roger Ebert, “Grizzly Man” (review), (11 August 2005): online [http://]
Screenings: Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, USA, 2005)
Week 7:  Midterm Test - 25% Activist Documentary
Readings: Ilan Kapoor, “Troubled Waters: Crashing Into The Cove”, Bright Lights Film Journal 68
(May 2010): online []
Screenings: The Cove (Louie Psihoyos, USA, 2009)
In-class Assignment #3 - 5%
Week 8:  No Class (Reading Week)
Week 9:  The Music Documentary
Readings: Michael Brendan Baker, “Notes on the Rockumentary Renaissance,” Cinephile 10.1
(Fall 2014): online.
Screenings: excerpts from Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Bert Stern, USA, 1960), Woodstock
(Michael Wadleigh, USA, 1970), The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, USA, 1978), Scratch (Doug
Pray, USA, 2001), All Tomorrow’s Parties (Jonathan Caouette, UK, 2009)
Week 10:  The Mockumentary
Readings: Thomas Doherty, “The Sincerest Form of Flattery: A Brief History of the
Mockumentary,” Cineaste 28.4 (Fall 2003): 22-24.
Screenings: excerpts from Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, USA, 1984), The Office (BBC, UK,
2001-2003), The Mighty Wind (Christopher Guest, USA, 2003), Zero Day (Ben Coccio, USA,
In-class Assignment #4 - 5%
Week 11:  The Arts Documentary
Readings: Jeremy Kay, “Exit Through the Gift Shop and enter the mind of Banksy,” The Guardian
(26 January 2010): online [
Lee Weston Sabo, “Selling Yourself: Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop,” Bright Lights Film
Journal (31 October 2010): online [
Screening: Exit Through the Gift Shop (Bansky, UK, 2010)
Week 12:  The Animated Documentary
Readings: Katrina Schlunke, “Animated Documentary and the Scene of Death: Experiencing
Waltz with Bashir”, SAQ: The South Atlantic Quarterly 110.4 (October 2011): 949-962.
See also: selections from BBC News ‘Middle East timeline’ — “1977-1979: Egyptian-Israeli
peace” & “1982 Lebanon invasion”
Screening: Creature Comforts (Nick Park, UK, 1989), Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, ISR, 2008)
Research Essay Due - 25%
Week 13:  Interactive Documentaries
Readings: Judith Aston and Sandra Gaudenzi, “Interactive Documentary: Setting the Field”,
Studies in Documentary Film 6.2 (2012): 125-139.
Interactive media demonstrations and exercises.
In-class Assignment #5 - 5%
Final Exam - 25%
Week 14:  Exam Review & Grade Consultation

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