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?