Course Description

History of Documentary Film surveys the major developments from the first factual films of 1895 to the present. The course covers major movements within the film genre, including factual film; ethnography, war, propaganda, documentary, and compilation films; films on art, direct cinema, cinema verité; films from the third world, and films from emerging social movements.

Because it is impossible to survey the entire history of documentary film in a single semester, we will be focusing on two broad themes in pre–World War II era and in the post-World War II era.

  1. In the years leading up to World War II in the 1940s, most documentary films were nationalistic in tone and in scope. Documentary films were often produced by governmental agencies that promoted the nation to its own people and to others around the world. They focused on the “big stories” of the nation. Part of this was due to the expensive nature of producing films. But it was also a function of the sociopolitical environment in the West and beyond. One could argue that this nationalistic fervor contributed to World War II and 70 million deaths. We cover this in modules 1–6.
  2. After World War II, filmmaking technology became less expensive to procure and less cumbersome to use. There were also new venues for exhibiting documentary films. And perhaps most importantly, there was a recognition that a progressive, cooperative spirit could realize peace among nations, although the Cold War would challenge that project. Documentary film in this era told many more stories than it ever had before. These films gave voice to communities and peoples who never could speak before. We cover this in modules 7–12.

The midterm exam divides the modules and our coverage of these broad themes.

Remote Online Course

This course will be conducted remotely over the Internet.

Most learning activities will be asynchronous, meaning that you will complete these on your own time. This includes readings, screenings, quizzes, essays, and exams.

In addition, there will be a certain number of synchronous activities, including a [weekly discussion session on Zoom][/courses/ha361sp2021/#discussionsessions] where we discuss the major issues relating to that week’s module on the history of documentary film.

Instructor

Juan Monroy

Office Hours

I will be available for individual meetings on Mondays and Wednesday, between 12:00 – 1:00 PM, US Eastern Time. Sign up for an appointment at least one day in advance at:

https://juanmonroy.com/prattofficehours

After you sign up, I will email you a Zoom Meeting link for you to join the meeting.

Assignments

Please complete all of the assignments by the date noted on the course schedule

Assigned Readings

Assigned readings are listed in the course schedule below and available from the following sources:

  1. Grant, Barry Keith and Jeannette Marie Sloniowski. Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings on Documentary Film and Video, new and expanded ed. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2014.

  2. McLane, Betsy. A New History of Documentary Film, 2nd ed. New York and London: Continuum, 2012.

The links for the chapters in Documenting the Documentary in the course schedule are for the ebook from Pratt Library.

Reading Quizzes

Each Thursday morning, I will post a reading quiz on Canvas. The quiz will consist of true-false and multiple choice questions.

Complete each quiz by the day of our class meeting, at 12:00 PM, as noted in the course schedule.

Screenings

Watch each of the films listed in the course schedule below. You will need to authenticate with your Pratt One Key credentials to access these screenings.

Some titles are available to stream from commercial services, such as The Criterion Channel, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and Kanopy. Where available, I have linked to Just Watch, a service that aggregates the availability of online streaming for most movie titles.

Live Discussion Sessions

All students must participate in the weekly discussion session held on Zoom. The live discussion session will last about an hour.

In these sessions, we will discuss the major issues relating to that week’s module on the history of documentary film.

Essay 1: Prewar Documentary Film and National Identity

An analytic paper on at least one documentary film, made prior to the end of World War II, screened in class that addresses how national identity is articulated.

  • Guidelines
  • Length: 1,200 words
  • Due: Friday, March 5, 11:59 PM, on Canvas
  • Weight: 20%

Essay 2: Documentary and The Archive

An analytic paper that compares how the past is resurrected through the use of archival footage in contemporary documentary films.

  • Guidelines
  • Length: 1,200 words
  • Due: Friday, April 30, 11:59 PM, on Canvas
  • Weight: 20%

Midterm Exam

The midterm exam will consist of two parts:

  1. Analysis of film stills from films screened in class, requiring you to explain the clip in the context of the film.
  2. Short answer questions, requiring you to engage the screenings and readings related to the major movements and trends in documentary film we covered in class.

Details:

  • Available on Canvas, beginning on Monday, March 4
  • Due on Wednesday, March 10, at 11:59 PM, on Canvas
  • Weight: 20%

Final Exam

The final exam will consist of two parts:

  1. Analysis of film stills from films screened in class, requiring you to explain the clip in the context of the film.
  2. Short answer questions, requiring you to engage the screenings and readings related to the major movements and trends in documentary film we covered in class.

Details:

  • Available on Canvas, beginning on Thursday, April 29
  • Due on Wednesday, May 5, at 5:00 PM, on Canvas
  • Weight: 20%

Course Schedule

Complete each assigned activity—readings, quizzes, and screenings—by the date listed for each module.

Introduction, January 20

In this introductory session, we will meet each other on Zoom, at the time noted below for your session. I will discuss the format of the course, our approach to studying documentary, and our goals for understanding the history of non-fiction filmmaking.

Module 1: Beginnings, January 27

Module 2: Avant-Garde and Modernity, February 3

Module 3: Documentary and the Soviet Revolution, February 10

Module 4: British Documentary Movement, February 17

  • Read A New History of Documentary Film, “Institutionalization: Great Britain, 1929–1939,” 73–92.
  • Read Documenting the Documentary, “The Art of National Projection: Basil Wright’s The Song of Ceylon.”
  • Watch Industrial Britain (Robert Flaherty and John Grierson, United Kingdom, 1931, 21 min.) Available on Google Drive.
  • Watch Housing Problems (Edgar Anstey and Arthur Elton, United Kingdom, 1935, 16 min.) Available on Google Drive.
  • Watch Song of Ceylon (Basil Wright for Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board, 1937, United Kingdom, 38 min.) Available on Google Drive.
  • Watch Night Mail (Harry Watt and Basil Wright, United Kingdom, 1936, 24 min.) Available on Google Drive.
  • Complete Quiz 4 on Canvas.
  • Join the Live Discussion Session on Zoom:

Module 5: US Documentary and the New Deal, February 24

Module 6: Wartime Documentary, March 3

Midterm Exam, March 10

The midterm exam will be available on Thursday, March 4, and due today at 5:00 PM.

Module 7: Post-War Documentary and Internationalism, March 17

Module 8: Cinéma Verité and Direct Cinema, March 31

Module 9: Political Activism and Documentary, April 7

Module 10: Video and New Documentary Forms, April 14

Module 11: Documentary, Archives, and Truth, April 21

Module 12: Documentary, Memory, and Truth, April 28

Final Exam: May 5

The final exam will be available on Thursday, April 29, and due today at 5:00 PM.