Watching Reality – How Documentary Works
Level 1 (CQFW Level 4), 10 Credits.
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Documentary film has scandalised, informed and intrigued audiences for a hundred years. New forms such as faction, docu-soap and reality TV maintain its claim to show us the truth about life. From Current Affairs to Fly-on-the-wall, documentary claims to show us life as it really is but paradoxically it employs artifice and selection to shape the experience it purports to present. Its very claim to veracity increases the urgency of understanding how documentary works on us viewers while its increasing reach and range makes it essential that we recognise the extent to which our worldview is affected by it. This course provides a toolkit of critical skills for viewing documentary, enhancing appreciation and enjoyment. It will also serve as an introduction to the main aspects of documentary, its historical development and contemporary trends.
Overview of syllabus content
Birth of Photography and Film
Documentary hits the limelight: Robert Flaherty and the Russian documentarists
The British Documentary Tradition. The 1930s and Second World War. Grierson, Riefenstahl and U.S. documentaries
1950s/60s: Development of synchronous sound – inner thoughts exposed.
Drama Documentary and Documentary Drama
Who is this course for?
Anyone with an interest in the subject. No previous knowledge is assumed.
Learning and Teaching
This course is taught in 10, two-hour sessions, delivered on a weekly basis.
The material will be delivered via:
- Tutor-led and student-led small group work.
- Powerpoint presentations on theory and practice.
- Analysis of the details of some familiar documentary formats such as ‘Panorama’.
- Group discussion.
- Viewing of documentary in class and via internet platforms during the week such as iPlayer and via live TV broadcasts.
- A questionnaire on viewing habits and preferences to stimulate awareness and critical facility.
- Option for students to launch and develop discussion post-viewing through a pre-prepared set of viewing notes.
Coursework and Assessment
A viewing diary (60%) and documentary talkback (40%) to a total of 1500 words demonstrating an understanding of core elements of the course material. The documentary talkback consists of notes totalling 500 words OR a Verbal Presentation of 5 minutes in which the student ‘talks back’ to the documentary that has made most impact on them.
To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved. Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.
The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning. Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.
- Essential texts
Patricia Aufderheide, Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2007)
Erik Barnouw, Documentary, A History of the Non-Fiction Film (Oxford University Press, rev. edn, 1993)
Sheila Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling for Film and Videomakers (Focal Press, 2010, new edn)
Mark Cousin and Kevin Macdonald, Imagining Reality (Faber, 2006)
Bill Nichols, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary (Indiana University Press, 1991)
Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary (Indiana University Press, 2001; 2nd edn, 2010)
Simon Popple and Joe Kember, Early Cinema – From Factory Gate to Dream Factory (Wallflower Paperback, 2004)
Thompson and Bowen, Grammar of the Edit (Focal Press, 2009, rev. edn)
- Recommended texts
A helpful timeline of the invention of cinema and the most basic facts.
British Film Institute – wide resources. Check out the National Archive site.
Museum of the Moving Image
Library and Computing Facilities
As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University library and computing facilities. You can find out more about these facilities on our website www.cardiff.ac.uk/learn under Student Information, or by ringing the Centre on
(029) 2087 0000.
Accessibility of Courses
Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and Dyslexia screening. Please contact the Centre on (029) 2087 0000 for an information leaflet.
A range of further information can be found on our web site www.cardiff.ac.uk/learn or in Choices. This includes the times and dates of courses and an explanation of accreditation and credit levels.