Hello and welcome to Documentary Film. My name is Juan Monroy, and I’ll be your instructor this semester.

With our attention focused on Washington, D.C. and on the inauguration, we will not be having a synchronous meeting for Wednesday, January 20. Instead, please read this welcome message about the course and complete the tasks listed at the end of this message, under the heading “To Do Today.”

I look forward to meeting you at our first synchronous meeting on January 27.

About Documentary Film

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.

We will be omitting a great deal of documentary filmmaking that has occurred, especially in the past few decades, but we will have an understanding of two broad themes that I think do speak about how documentary has developed over that time. And we will be committed to exploring filmmaking that is based on facts and is committed to telling the truth.


Everything you need to know about this course is available at https://juanmonroy.com/documentary This course website references all the policies for this course, lists and explains the assignments, outlines the course schedule, and includes links to everything you’ll need for this course.


We will be using Canvas in a limited role, mostly for quizzes, essays and exams. There are also links to some of the screenings.

Canvas does not list any required readings nor most of the screenings that you must do for this class.


You can contact me in of the following ways:


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.

Complete the readings by the date listed on the course schedule.

The course website contains information about how to get the textbook.

Also, please note that you can access an ebook of Documenting Documentary from Pratt Library. The links to readings from that book that are in the course schedule are to this ebook.

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 12:00 PM on the day of our class meeting, as noted in the course schedule. Ten of twelve quizzes are required.


Watch each of the films listed by the date indicated on the course schedule. I have listed a number of sources where you can watch these films, including:

Live Discussion Sessions

We will have an hourlong, weekly discussion session on Zoom, at the following time:

The link to join, which is also available on the course website, is https://pratt.zoom.us/j/97985869393?pwd=dHBOTUJPeXVRRjUwdjAxcWNlRTMxUT09

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


We will be writing two essays throughout the semester, capping off the two broad themes in our study of film history.

  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, due Friday, March 6, on Canvas
  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, due Friday, April 30, on Canvas


We will be taking two exams, both of which consist of two types of questions:

  1. Identification of film stills from films screened in class, requiring you to identify and 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.

The exams will be available on Canvas:

  1. Midterm Exam, available Thursday, March 4, and due on Wednesday, March 10, at 11:59 PM
  2. Final Exam, available Thursday, April 29, and due on Wednesday, May 5, at 5:00 PM, on Canvas


Your final grade will be based on the following assignments. Each assignment is worth 20%.

  1. Sum of your top 10 quiz grades
  2. Essay 1
  3. Midterm Exam
  4. Essay 2
  5. Final Exam

To Do Today

Please complete these tasks within the next week:


If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or ask a question on the discussion board in Canvas.