module specification

SJ6060 - Documentary Filmmaking (2018/19)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2018/19
Module title Documentary Filmmaking
Module level Honours (06)
Credit rating for module 15
School School of Computing and Digital Media
Total study hours 150
105 hours Guided independent study
45 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 30%   2,000 Word Essay
Group Presentation 50%   Group Documentary (15 mins) and Critical Evaluation (1,000 Words)
Group Coursework 10%   Group Statement (500 Words)
Seminar 10%   Class Participation
Running in 2018/19
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Spring semester North Monday Morning

Module summary

This module investigates theories of realism and representation in relation to documentary, whether made for cinema or television. The student will explore the production of meaning across a range of documentary genres. Conventions of realism will be analysed in relation to changing industrial, technological and cultural contexts. Students will work in small groups to produce a short documentary through which to advance their filmmaking skills, and to engage with the challenge of representation in our culturally diverse communities.

Module aims

This module aims to

• examine theoretical debates on realism and representation in documentary practice
• investigate the complex relationship between reality, appearance and representation in factual filmmaking
• advance skills in research and filmmaking through the production of a short documentary
• build confidence in working collaboratively, to schedule and for the achievement of a common purpose


The module will be taught through historical case studies demonstrating the evolution of conventions of realism including early British documentaries, CinémaVérité and Direct Cinema movements, Channel Four Television and the expansion of independent production, contemporary, post-digital documentary formats, and high budget production for cinema. There will be a focus on the impact of changing industrial imperatives and developments in technology on approaches to realism. Conventions of representation will also be considered in relation to the impact of post-colonial theory on some documentary filmmakers who have challenged modernist traditions and experimented with new forms.

Learning and teaching

The module will build on skills developed in the practice-theory pathway of level 4 and 5 in the Film and Television Studies discipline. In the first half, through lectures, screenings and discussions of a wide selection of feature documentaries from different countries, students will be introduced to the divergent forms and the questions of interpretation that they raise. They will explore the function of commentary, camerawork, character, sound and editing in offering the viewer a critical and reflective experience through which to respond to cultures and experience other than their own. The theoretical study will be supported by on-line discussion forums, and extended in practice in the second half of the module through the film production groups. Students will carry out independent research engaging with communities outside the university, will develop production schedules in class against which to measure their own targets, and will use the university’s digilab facilities to complete their films. Students will offer a peer assessment (non-contributory) of each others’ films. This class evaluation will be according to specific criteria and take place at final rough cut stage in order to have a formative impact on the completion of the films.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module the student will be able to:

• Give critical analysis and interpretation of a range of documentaries from different historical periods
• Appreciate the evolving contexts – cultural, industrial and aesthetic – which inform conventions of realism
• Challenge notions of objectivity in the representation of human experience
• Plan and carry out investigative research
• Design and execute a short documentary project from first idea to finished film
• Work in a team, demonstrating management and planning skills transferable to careers in the audiovisual and creative industries

Assessment strategy

There will be four contributory assessments.

The first assessment will be formative, intended to assess students’ theoretical understanding of key conventions of realism and their ability to place a film in its appropriate industrial and technological contexts. This understanding will inform the choices of approach, material and style which students bring to their own documentary projects.

The second assessment will be summative and theory-practice in design. It will demonstrate students’ ability to apply theory in the structure and representation of a short film on their chosen subject and show their technical abilities as filmmakers. The written evaluation of their production will enable them to give a critical assessment of their success in realising the aims set out in class for their film project.

The third assessment will also be summative: a written evaluation both of students’ collaborative group practice and of the execution of production responsibilities by each member. This will be agreed and signed by all members of the group before submission.

10% of marks will also be given on the basis of attendance and class participation as set out in specified criteria.


• Richard Armstrong, Understanding Realism, (London: British Film Institute, 2005).
• Richard Barsam, Reality Perceived and Recorded in Nonfiction Film, (Indianapolis: Indianapolis University Press, 1993).
• Michael Chanan, The Politics of Documentary, (London: British Film Institute, 2007).
• John Corner, The Art of Record: A Critical Introduction to Documentary, (Manchester University Press,1996).
• Ian Aitken (ed.), The Documentary Film Movement: An Anthology, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press ,1998).
• Julia Hallam and Margaret Marshment, Realism and Popular Cinema, (Glasgow: Manchester University Press, 2000).
• Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001).
• Christopher Williams, Realism and the Cinema, (London: Routledge, 1980).
• Brian Winston, Claiming the Real, the Griersonian Documentary and its Legitimations, (London: British Film Institute,1995).