MDS-20032 - Documentary: Theory and Practice
Coordinator: Pawas Bisht Room: N/A Tel: +44 1782 7 33242
Lecture Time: See Timetable...
Level: Level 5
Credits: 15
Study Hours: 150
School Office: 01782 733147

Programme/Approved Electives for 2022/23


Available as a Free Standing Elective






Barred Combinations


Description for 2022/23

The aim of this module is to consider and critically discuss the important genre of documentary, focusing on a range of examples, across time and within various movements and sub-genres, and practically to apply this learning to the processes of production. Seminal documentaries and examples will be considered, such as early pieces by Mitchell and Kenyon, Nanook of the North (Dir. Robert Flaherty), Night Mail (Dirs. Harry Watt & Basil Wright), Nuit et Brouillard (Dir. Alain Resnais), Handsworth Songs (Dir. John Akomfrah), Battle of Orgreave (Dir. Mike Figgis), and Benefits Street (Channel 4, 2013). The module will consider different modes, styles and sub-genres of documentary such as cinema verite, fly-on-the-wall, investigative, ethnographic, docu-soap, experimental, and the place of drama, reconstruction and fiction in documentary. The module scrutinises a number of key debates such as reality and representation, ethics and ideology, and it looks at the social, political, economic and technological contexts in which documentary can be broadly critically located. The module also looks at the processes of production and students will work in groups to produce their own documentary. Within groups, and with guidance and instruction from staff, students will have opportunities to learn certain skills in script writing, storyboarding, researching, filming and post-producing, whilst implementing these skills within the production of a collaborative documentary. Emphasis will be given to consideration of the relationships between theory and practice.

The module aims to provide students with an understanding of the history and evolution of documentary and the key critical debates, movements, styles that define various forms and practices of documentary and to be able to critically analyse documentary texts. The module will give students a critical understanding of the processes of production and the way in which documentary is constructed and given meaning, and will allow students to analyse its various relationships to its audience and its broader social, cultural economic, political and technological contexts. Students will develop their ability to use theory to inform practices, and to be able to produce with a critical sense.

Talis Aspire Reading List
Any reading lists will be provided by the start of the course.

Intended Learning Outcomes

understand the history and evolution of forms and practices of documentary in relation to their social, cultural, economic, political and technological contexts: 2
reflect critically upon the uses of various production techniques in the use of image and sound in documentary: 1,2
construct detailed arguments outlining and debating the possibilities for authorship: 2
employ models of aesthetic analysis in order to consider, discuss, and evaluate documentary texts and their significance: 2
utilise and analyse critical and conceptual approaches and apply these to the process of production: 1
learn new production skills and apply these in the production of a film project from start to finish: 1
argue comparatively across a range of documentary texts: 2

Study hours

This module will be delivered by 12 x 2 hour workshop sessions, which will flexibly combine lectures, screenings, discussion, tasks and technical instruction. There will be an additional 12 hours of practical training and film viewing to be arranged in a flexible manner over the course of the module.
114 hours independent study will be guided activity (incl. tasks, set-reading, group work, project work, research).

School Rules


Description of Module Assessment

1: Project weighted 50%
Making a short documentary film (can be undertaken as individual project OR as part of a group)
Students will work individually OR as part of a group (two to three students) to pre-produce, produce and post-produce a short documentary film. Individually produced films are required to be between 1-3 minutes in duration. Group-produced films are required to be between 5-10 minutes in duration. In all cases, the films will need to be linked to a theme set out by the module tutor.

2: Reflective Analysis weighted 50%
1500-word reflective analysis
1500-word reflective analysis. Students will draw on relevant theory from the field of documentary production to reflect on the choices made in the production of their documentary film. These will relate to key concerns in the field of documentary production such as representation, aesthetics and ethics.