Introduction to Documentary Media
Film 106: Introduction to Documentary Media
Screenings: Thursday 7pm to 10pm, Avery 110
Lectures: Friday 10am to 1pm, Avery 110

Professor Ed Halter
halter at bard dot edu
Office: Avery 220
Office hours: Thursday 1:00 to 3:00, by appointment

An introductory historical survey of the documentary, from the silent era to the digital age. Topics addressed will include: how to define nonfiction cinema and documentary, the social issue documentary of the 1930s, cinema verite, propaganda, ethnographic media, the essay film, experimental documentary forms, media activism, re-enactment, transgression and taboo, and the role of changing technologies.

Attendance at all lectures and screenings; a weekly report on a documentary seen outside of class; an in-class midterm exam, and an in-class final exam. Both midterm and final exams are essay format, and will be based on material found in the films, the lectures, and the weekly readings.

With permission of the instructor, you may replace your final exam with a final research paper on a topic of your choice, 15-18 pages. If you wish to do so, you must first set up an appointment to meet with me no later than April 24 to discuss, then turn in a one-page topic summary with preliminary bibliography of at least four sources no later than May 1. The final paper will be due in class on May 15.

In order to be counted for attendance purposes, you will need to sign the attendance book at the beginning of each lecture and screening. Attendance is mandatory at all lectures and screenings, and attendance to both will count towards your grade. Three absences and your grade automatically drops a full letter. More than three and your grade drops two.

Please note that I don’t differentiate between “excused” or “non-excused” absences for this purpose. Should you foresee any problems meeting this attendance requirement at any point in the course, contact me immediately.

Many of the weekly readings will be taken from the following books, available at the Bard bookstore:

Erik Barnouw, Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, 2nd Edition, 1993
Jonathan Kahana, Intelligence Work: The Politics of the American Documentary, 2008

Other readings will be linked from this syllabus directly or found on Reserveweb. Please have your readings done by class and ready to discuss; it is recommended that you bring specific questions about anything you don’t fully understand or would like more information about.

Weekly Reports
Each week you will hand in a one-page report—no less than 250 words, no more than 500—about a documentary seen outside of class. This could be a documentary you have seen in the past and remember well, one belonging to the film department video library, one you rent or borrow, something you see at a screening outside this class, or something you watch online, but it cannot be a documentary that is listed on this syllabus at any point.

Your job will be to relate the documentary you have seen to questions and ideas you have encountered in the readings and lectures. Reports must be printed out and handed in at the beginning of class. Late or emailed reports will not be accepted. Your reports will be graded on grammar, style and content as follows:

Check plus: assignment completed with strong ideas and few or no composition or information errors.
Check: assignment completed with strong ideas and two to four composition or information errors.
Check minus: assignment completed with weak ideas and/or four or more composition or information errors
Zero: assignment not completed or not handed in.

Taking Notes
Since you will be able to use your notes during the midterm and final, it is highly recommended that you take notes when reading, at lecture, and during the screenings. Please note that some of the films are not available on video, and therefore can’t be reviewed before your exams, so you own notes may be crucial. (If you have difficulty taking notes while watching a film, jot them down quickly after the film is over.)

Grading Rubric:
Weekly reports:     34%
Midterm:               33%
Final:                    33%


Week 1
January 29 – Screening
Thom Andersen, Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (US, 1975, 59 mins)
January 30 – Introduction

Week 2
February 5 – Screening 
Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, Manhatta (US, 1921, 10 mins)
Ralph Steiner, H20 (US, 1929, 12 mins)
Robert Flaherty, Nanook of the North (US, 1922, 79 mins)
February 6
Barnouw, “Explorer” and “Painter,” 1-51 and 71-81
William Rothman, “Nanook of the North”
Bill Nichols, “How Do Documentaries Differ from Other Types of Films?”

Week 3
February 12 – Screening
Walther Ruttman, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Germany, 1927, 62 mins)
Dziga Vertov, Man With the Movie Camera (USSR, 1929, 68 mins)
February 13
Barnouw, “Reporter,” 51-71
Dziga Vertov, “WE: Variant of a Manifesto”
Annette Michelson, “Introduction” from Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov
Kahana, “Introduction,” 1-40

Week 4
February 19 – Screening
Pare Lorenz, The Plow that Broke the Plains (US, 1936, 25 mins)
Pare Lorenz, The River (US, 1938, 21 mins)
Basil Wright & Harry Watt, Night Mail (UK, 1936, 25 mins)
Joris Ivens, Power and the Land (US, 1940, 38 mins)
February 20
Barnouw, “Advocate,” 85-139
Kahana, “The Sentiment of Trust: The Documentary Front and the New Deal,” 41-140
John Grierson, “First Principles of Documentary”
Paul Rotha, “Some Principles of Documentary”

Week 5
February 26 – Screening
Humphrey Jennings, Listen to Britain (UK, 1942, 18 mins)
Leni Reifenstahl, Triumph of the Will, (Germany, 1935, 120 mins)
February 27
Screening in class:
Frank Capra, Why We Fight: Prelude to War (US, 1943, 53 mins)
Barnouw, “Bugler,” 139-172
Susan Sontag, “Fascinating Fascism”
John Grierson, “The Nature of Propaganda”
André Bazin, "On Why We Fight: History, Documentation, and the Newsreel."

Week 6
March 5 – Screening
Georges Franju, Blood of the Beasts (France, 1949, 20 mins)
Alain Resnais, Night and Fog (France, 1955, 32 mins)
Robert Drew, Primary (US, 1950, 53 mins)
March 6
Screening in class:
Shirley Clarke, Portrait of Jason (US, 1976, 99 mins)
Albert & David Maysles, Salesman (US, 1968, 91 mins)
Barnouw, “Prosecutor” and “Observer,” 172-182 and 231-253
Kahana, “The Vision Thing,” 269-318
Interview with Albert Maysles on Salesman
Peter Graham, “’Cinema-Verité in France”

Week 7
March 12 – Screening
Barbara Kopple, Harlan County, USA (US, 1976, 103 mins)
March 13
Barnouw, “Catalyst,” and “Movement,” 253-261, 295-349
Kahana, “Lyrical Tirades,” 143-204
E. Ann Kaplan, "Harlan County, USA: The Documentary Form"
Peter Biskind, “Harlan County, USA: The Miners’ Struggle”

Week 8
March 19 – No screening
March 20 – Midterm exam

March 26 – Spring Break
March 27 – Spring Break

Week 9
April 2 – Screening
Robert Gardner, Forest of Bliss (US, 1986, 99 mins)
April 3
Screening in class: Trinh T. Minh-ha, Reassemblage (US, 1983, 40 mins)
Peter Kubelka, Unsere Afrikareise (Our Trip to Africa) (Austria, 1966, 12 mins)
Robert Gardner, “Anthropology and Film”
Interview with Trinh T. Minh-ha by Constance Penley and Andrew Ross

Week 10
April 9 – Screening
Chris Marker, Sans Soleil (France, 1983, 100 mins)
April 10
Screening in class: Harun Farocki, Inextinguishable Fire (Germany, 1969, 30 mins)
Catherine Russell, “Autoethnography: Journeys of the Self”
Kahana, “Tense Times,” 319-359

Week 11
April 16 – Screening
Errol Morris, The Thin Blue Line (US, 1988, 103 mins)
April 17
Screening in class: Jill Godmillow, What Farocki Taught (US, 1997, 30 mins)
Jennifer Horne and Jonathan Kahana, “A Perfect Replica: An Interview with Harun Farocki and Jill Godmillow”
Linda Williams “Mirrors Without Memories: Truth, History and the New Documentary”

Week 12
April 23 – Screening
Jeff Krulik & John Heyn, Heavy Metal Parking Lot (US, 1986, 15 mins)
Jem Cohen, Instrument (US, 1999, 115 mins)
April 24
No class but read:
David Wilson, “Jem Cohen”
Phillip Lopate, "
In Search of the Centaur: The Essay Film"
Ed Halter, "Television for the People"

Week 13
April 30 – Screening
Hara Kazuo, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (Japan, 1987, 122 mins)
May 1
Jeffrey Ruoff, “Japan’s Outlaw Filmmaker: An Interview with Hara Kazuo”
Laura U. Marks, "I Am Very Frightened of the Things That I Film"

Week 14
May 7 – Screening
Agnes Varda, The Gleaners and I (France, 2000, 82 mins)
May 8
Thoroughly read the WITNESS website and the News Games blog.
The Economist, “A World of Witnesses”
Additional reading TBA

Week 15
May 14 – no screening
May 15 – final exam

Online sources for viewing documentaries:

Google Video

BBC Documentaries
PBS Frontline
Internet Archive
National Film Board of Canada
UBUWEB: Film & Video

Documentary exhibitors

Flaherty Film Seminar
Full Frame
Hot Docs
International Documentary Festival Amsterdam
Stranger than Fiction

Other resources

Center for Social Media: Fair Use & Copyright
International Documentary Association
My delicious feed tagged “documentary”