Empowering Media That Matters
Home >> Media Impact >> Related Materials >> Syllabi >> The Social Documentary (Radio, Television, Film 345)

The Social Documentary (Radio, Television, Film 345)

Syllabus by Prof. Laura Stein, University of Texas at Austin

COURSE DESCRIPTION

This course provides a conceptual overview of the forms, strategies, structures and conventions of documentary film and video with an emphasis on North American. The course focuses mainly on social documentaries, or documentaries that construct arguments about the social world, addresses power relations in society, and aim to raise awareness and motivate action for social justice. Students will examine dominant, experimental and emergent modes of representation; important documentary texts, movements, and filmmakers; and selected documentary genres. The aims of this course are two-fold. Students will gain knowledge of the current theoretical dilemmas and debates in documentary filmmaking, including questions of how to define documentary, what constitutes the ethical treatment of subjects and subject matter, documentary's construction and positioning of its audience, and political and economic constraints on documentary filmmaking. In addition, the course will emphasize critical thinking and viewing skills related to representations of the social world through audio-visual media.

READINGS

RECOMMENDED

Barnouw, Erik. (1993). "Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, 2nd ed." New York: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, Jack C. (1989). "The Documentary Idea: A Critical History of English-language Documentary Film and Video." Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Nichols, Bill. (1991). "Representing Reality." Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.

M. Renov (Ed.), Theorizing Documentary. New York: Routledge.

Barry Keith Grant and Jeannette Sloniowski (Eds.)., "Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video." Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

COURSE ASSIGNMENTS & EXAMS

1. Documentary Journal: Each student will keep a journal that critically discusses all of the documentaries viewed in class. Journal entries should include in their headings the title, director and year of each documentary. The substance of each journal entry may include any of the following: a synopsis and analysis of the documentary, critical and personal reactions to the work, discussion of techniques and modes of representation, ethical questions raised by the work, styles and strategies utilized to convey meaning, the appropriateness of style to content, the relationship of the work to a particular documentary movement, etc. When grading the journal, I will mark down 1 full letter grade for every 10% of films that are missing. I will place each week's screenings in the Instructional Media Center (IMC) for 1 full week for make-up viewing. After that, the films will no longer be available to view, no exceptions.

2. Each student will write either a research paper or grant narrative.

A. Research paper. The paper should be about 25 pages in length. Students will choose the paper topic to reflect a substantive and/or analytical issue addressed by the course. A one-page paper proposal is due at least one month before the final paper.

B. NEH grant narrative. The grant narrative should be approximately 25 pages in length. Follow the guidelines for a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant for "Television Projects: Production Grants"

(See NEH websites: http://www.neh.gov/grants/guidelines/tvprojects.html

http://www.neh.gov/grants/guidelines/tvprojects.html#howto).

You should answer the following questions listed under the "Narrative" section of the "Television Projects" grant: 1. nature of the request 2. overview of the subject 3. description of the project 6. audience and broadcast prospects & Appendix B: treatment.

COURSE SCHEDULE

Week 1 (1/19 & 1/20)

INTRODUCTION TO THE COURSE: Paradoxes of narrative nonfiction.

*NO SCREENING

Week 2 (1/26 & 1/27)

DEFINING DOCUMENTARY AND DOCUMENTARY MODES OF REPRESENTATION: What is documentary? Semiotic analysis and representational forms.

*NO SCREENING

Read:
Nichols, "How Do Documentaries Differ from Other Types of Film"
Nichols, "What Types of Documentary Are There"
Eitzen, "When Is a Documentary?: Documentary as a Mode of Reception"
Monaco, "The Language of Film: Signs and Syntax"

Week 3 (2/2 & 2/3)

EXPOSITORY REPRESENTATION.

Screen:
Selected Lumiere films
Industrial Britain, Robert Flaherty and John Grierson, Great Britain, 21 min., 1933
The Plow That Broke the Plains, Pare Lorentz, 25 min., 1934
Song of Ceylon, Basil Wright, 1933
Night Mail, Harry Watt and Basil Wright, 25 min, 1936
Land Without Bread, Luis Buñuel, 27 min., Spain, 1932

Read:
Grierson, "First Principles of Documentary"
Grierson, "The Nature of Propaganda"
Grierson, "The Documentary Idea"
Keil, "Persuasion and Expression in 'The Plow That Broke the Plains' and 'The City'" (you can skip sections on "The City")
Guyn, "Basil Wright's 'Song of Ceylon'"
Rothman, "Land Without Bread"

Recommended Reading:

Barnouw, "Prophet," pp. 3-30
Barnouw, "Advocate," pp. 85-139

Week 4 (2/9 & 2/10)

EXPOSITORY REPRESENTATION (continued).

Screen:
Harvest of Shame, Edward R. Murrow, CBS News, 60 min., 1960
Panama Deception, Barbara Trent, 1992

Read:
Nichols, "How Have Documentaries Addressed Social and Political Issues?"

Recommend Reading:
Barnouw, "Promoter," pp. 213-228

Week 5 (2/16 & 2/17)

OBSERVATIONAL REPRESENTATION

Screen:
Nanook of the North, R.J. Flaherty, 79 min., 1922
Salesman, Maysles, 90 minutes, 1969

Read:
Flaherty, "How I filmed 'Nanook of the North'"
Rothman, "'Nanook of the North'"
Stubbs, "Albert Maysles: Father of Direct Cinema"

Recommend Reading:
Barnouw, Explorer, pp. 33-51
Barnouw, "Observer," pp. 231-253

Week 6 (2/23 & 2/24)

OBSERVATIONAL REPRESENTATION (continued)

Screen:
Streetwise, Martin Bell, Mary Ellen Mark, and Cheryl McCall, 92 min., 1984

Read:
Pryluck, "Ultimately, We are All Outsiders"
Schwartz, "Streetwise and Seventeen"

Week 7 (3/1 & 3/2)

INTERACTIVE REPRESENTATION

Screen:
Chronicle of a Summer, Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin, France, 90 min., 1960
Harlan County U.S.A., Barbara Kopple, 103 min., 1976

Read:
Rothman, "Chronicle of a Summer"
King, "Recent 'Political' Documentary"
Stubbs, "Barbara Kopple: Through the Lens Fearlessly"

Recommended Reading: Barnouw, "Catalyst," pp. 253-262

Week 8 (3/8 & 3/9)

INTERACTIVE REPRESENTATION (continued)

Screen:
Sherman's March, Ross McElwee, 155 min., 1985
George Wallace: Settin' the Woods on Fire, Paul Stekler, 2000

Read:
Fischer, "Ross McElwee's 'Sherman's March'"
Stubbs, "Ross McElwee: Personal Journeyman"

Week 9 (SPRING BREAK)

Week 10 (3/22 & 3/23)

REFLEXIVE MODES OF REPRESENTATION

Screen:
No Lies, Mitchell Block, 25 min., 1973
The Man With a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov, U.S.S.R., 103 min. 1929

Read:
Feldman, "Dziga Vertov's 'The Man with a Movie Camera'"
Michelson, "Introduction"(from Kino-Eye)
Vertov, "We: Variant of a Manifesto"

Recommend Reading:
Barnouw, "Reporter," pp. 51-71

Week 11 (3/29 & 3/30)

REFLEXIVE MODES OF REPRESENTATION (continued)

Screen:
Roger and Me, Michael Moore, 87 min., 1989
Letter from Waco, Don Howard, 60 min., 1996

Read:
Bernstein, "Documentaphobia and Mixed Modes"
Ruby, "The Image Mirrored: Reflexivity in Documentary Film"
Bullert, "Roger & Me and the Heartbeat of America"
Arthur, "Jargons of Authenticity"

Week 12 (4/5 & 4/6)

GENRES, SUBGENRES AND MOVEMENTS: AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL DOCUMENTARY.

Screen:
The Work of Sadie Benning, Sadie Benning, 1989
Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter, D. Hoffman, 1994, 44 min.
Tongues Untied, Marlon Riggs, 50 min., 1989

1 page paper proposal due.

Read:
Lane, "Notes on Theory and the Autobiographical Documentary Film in America"
Petty, "Silence and Its Opposite: Expressions of Race in 'Tongues Untied'"
Bullert, "Tongues Untied"
Bordowitz, "Operative Assumptions"
Riggs, "Tongues Re-tied"

Week 13 (4/12 & 4/13)

GENRES, SUBGENRES AND MOVEMENTS: MUSIC DOCUMENTARY.

Screen:
Don't Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker, 90 min., 1966
Blondie: VH1 Behind the Music
This is Spinal Tap

Read:
Rothman, "Cinema Verité in America and 'Don't Look Back'"
Levin, "Donn Alan Pennebaker"
Plantinga, "Satirizing Masculinity in 'This is Spinal Tap'"

Week 14 (4/19 & 4/20)

GENRES, SUBGENRES AND MOVEMENTS: REALITY TELEVISION & ITS ANTECEDENTS

Screen:
Candid Camera, 1960s-present
An American Family, Craig Gilbert, 1973
The Real World-New York, MTV, 1992
An American Love Story, Jennifer Fox, 1999

Read:
Nichols, "At the Limits of Reality (TV)"
Andrejevic, "Rediscovering Reality," and "The Kinder, Gentler Gaze of Big Brother"

Week 15 (4/26 & 4/27)

GENRES, SUBGENRES AND MOVEMENTS: GUERILLA TELEVISION.

Screen:
Selected works from Paper Tiger Television, Termite TV and Free Speech TV
Battle of Trafalgar, Despite TV Collective, 1990
What Democracy Looks Like, Showdown in Seattle, Deep Dish TV and Independent Media Center-Seattle, 28 min, 1999

Read:
Boyle, "From Portapak to Camcorder: A Brief History of Guerrilla Television"
Millner, "Bargain Video"
http://www.termite.org/ (read "about" Termite TV, delve around the "articles & reviews")
Stein, "Access Television and Grassroots Political Communication in the United States"

Recommend Reading:
Barnouw, "Guerilla," pp. 262-293
Barnouw, "Movement," pp. 297-349

Week 16 (5/3 & 5/4)

THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL DOCUMENTARY: Mixed modes. New and emergent forms of documentary. Social documentary as an institutionalized practice.

Screen:
The Thin Blue Line, Errol Morris, American Playhouse, PBS, 115 min., 1987.
Señorita Extraviada, Lourdes Portillo, 70 min., 2001

Read:
Williams, "Truth, History, and 'The Thin Blue Line'"
Bates, "Truth Not Guaranteed: An Interview with Errol Morris"
Barnouw, "Seeing and Believing: The Thin Blue Line of Documentary Objectivity"
Engardio, "ITVS: Might See TV"

5/10 Papers and journals due