Learning Beyond the Classics

Truth and Fiction: How to Analyze Documentary Films

Documentaries have exploded both in popularity and availability in recent history. In cineplexes, on Netflix, throughout basic cable, and on Facebook, we interact with documentary movies more than ever before. Given the proliferation of the genre and our increased interaction with it, it’s an excellent time to consider the way we watch documentaries and reflect on how documentaries construct the arguments, both explicitly and implicitly, they give us.

This course offers a broad survey of documentary film with various nations, periods, and subject materials presented in order to create a deeper literacy of the genre. The mix of critically, historically, and culturally important documentaries, including actualities, mockumentaries, newsreels, essay films, and big budget documentary blockbusters, watched in tandem helps expose trends to which we often are desensitized. Further, the class will examine the “reality” presented in documentaries and the processes by which realism is created, maintained, and proffered, allowing persuasive techniques like social acting, testimonials, raw footage, reflexivity, and narration to be scrutinized.

Discussions surrounding the films will aim to analyze the documentary’s information through multiple threading lines of inquiry in order to situate authority, both on and off screen. To that end, central questions align with the critical media literacy approach and will include: who is the author of this film, what incentives do they have for making the film, who is the film addressing, who is the film not addressing, and how do we disentangle the wide categorization of documentary films?

This Learning Beyond the Classics Series poses multiple questions relevant to the world of documentaries, including: how is reality constructed on film, what conventions and patterns have formed through history, and how do audiences read reality as it is depicted in film?

Film Selections

How to Survive a Plague (2012) Wednesday, October 24, 2018 VIEW DETAILS
The Blair Witch Project (1999) Wednesday, October 31, 2018 VIEW DETAILS
Austerlitz (2016) Wednesday, November 7, 2018 VIEW DETAILS
Essay Short Films Program Wednesday, November 14, 2018 VIEW DETAILS
The Honour of All (1985) Wednesday, November 28, 2018 VIEW DETAILS

New Series Coming Soon!


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All artists, dates, programs, and pricing are subject to change.


What does the $24 fee include?

The $24 fee includes a package of one ticket to all 14 screenings in the series and access to the course readings, introductions, and discussions. Attendance is not mandatory, but there are no refunds or exchanges for dates not attended. As with other ticket packages, you may purchase multiples in a single transaction by selecting the number of seats to add to your shopping cart. All seating for the course is general admission. The series is free for all Notre Dame, Holy Cross, Saint Mary’s and IUSB students.

How do I receive the course materials?

Course materials will be emailed prior to each screening.

When is the deadline to sign up?

The deadline to sign up for the class is September 19, 2018.

Do I get credit from the University of Notre Dame for taking this course?

No, this course is for general education only and no credit is offered.

Will there be any assignments or exams given?

Those who sign up for the series are not required to produce essays or take exams. Nothing is required to be brought to the weekly screenings, other than your ticket.

Do I have to purchase the entire course to watch any of these films?

If you are not interested in signing up for the course, you may still attend series screenings as a regular cinema patron.

Do I have to attend all films in the series?

You are not required to attend all the films in the series, however, no refunds will be given for dates not attended.

Can I receive a refund or credit if I miss a screening?

There are no refunds or exchanges for dates not attended.

Who can I contact for questions about this series?

For questions about the film series, contact Ricky Herbst at 574-631-5511. For general inquiries, contact the Ticket Office at 574-631-2800. The Ticket Office is open Monday–Friday, noon–6 p.m. and one hour prior to events.

How do I get there?

Located directly north of Eddy Street Commons, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center is easy to find on Notre Dame’s south campus. (DeBartolo Hall is a different building.) Our address is 100 Performing Arts Center and the Browning Cinema is on the second level, accessible by elevators.

View our Directions + Parking page for more details.

Where can I park?

The gated Stayer Lot (north of the center) and Stadium Lot (east of Legends of Notre Dame), and the ungated Visitor Lot are free and open to the public weekdays after 5 p.m. and weekends. Accessible parking is on the center’s east side. Parking at the entrance is not permitted except in the 10-minute parking zone. University events may occasionally restrict parking—attendants on duty will direct you to the nearest available lot.

View our Directions + Parking page for more details.