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

Professor Ed Halter
halter at bard dot edu
Office: Avery 220
Office hours: Thursday 5:00 to 7:00, 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, ethics, and the role of changing technologies.

Attendance at all lectures and screenings; 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 7 to discuss, then turn in a one-page topic summary with preliminary bibliography of at least four sources no later than April 21. The final paper will be due in class on May 14.

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 or more and your grade automatically drops a full letter.

Please note that I don’t differentiate between “excused” or “non-excused” absences for this purpose, including illness and obligations to athletics, clubs, travel or other extracurricular activities. 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
Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary, 2nd edition, 2010

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.

Taking Notes
Since you will be able to use your notes during the midterm and final, it is highly recommended that you take notes (1) when reading, (2) at lecture, and (3) 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:
Midterm:                       50%
Final:                              50%


Week 1
January 27 – Screening
Thom Andersen, Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (US, 1975, 59 mins)
January 28 – Introduction

Week 2

February 3
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 4
Barnouw, “Explorer” and “Painter,” 1-51 and 71-81
William Rothman, “Nanook of the North”
Nichols, "How Did Documentary Filmmaking Get Started?"

Week 3
February 10 – 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 11
Barnouw, “Reporter,” 51-71
Dziga Vertov, “WE: Variant of a Manifesto”
Nichols, "How Can We Differentiate among Documentaries? Categories, Models, and the Expository and Poetic Modes of Documentary Film"

Week 4
February 17 – Screening
Pare Lorenz, The Plow that Broke the Plains (US, 1936, 25 mins)
Basil Wright & Harry Watt, Night Mail (UK, 1936, 25 mins)
Joris Ivens, Power and the Land (US, 1940, 38 mins)
February 18
Barnouw, “Advocate,” 85-139
Nichols, "What Gives Documentary Films a Voice of Their Own?"
John Grierson, “First Principles of Documentary”
Paul Rotha, “Some Principles of Documentary”

Week 5
February 24 – Screening
Humphrey Jennings & Stewart McAllister, Listen to Britain (UK, 1942, 18 mins)
Leni Reifenstahl, Triumph of the Will, (Germany, 1935, 120 mins)
February 25
Screening in class:
Frank Capra, Why We Fight: War Comes to America (US, 1943, 64 mins)
Barnouw, “Bugler,” 139-172
Nichols, "What Makes Documentaries Engaging and Persuasive?"
John Grierson, “The Nature of Propaganda”
André Bazin, "On Why We Fight: History, Documentation, and the Newsreel."
Recommended: Susan Sontag, “Fascinating Fascism”

Week 6
March 3 – Screening
Georges Franju, Blood of the Beasts (France, 1949, 20 mins)
Alain Resnais, Night and Fog (France, 1955, 32 mins)
Albert & David Maysles, Salesman (US, 1968, 91 mins)
March 4
Barnouw, “Prosecutor” and “Observer,” 172-182 and 231-253
Nichols, "How Can We Describe the Observational, Participatory, Relfexive, and Performative Modes of Documentary Film?"
Interview with Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin on Salesman

Week 7
March 10 – Screening
Barbara Kopple, Harlan County, USA (US, 1976, 103 mins)
March 11
Barnouw, “Catalyst,” and “Movement,” 253-261, 295-349
Nichols, "Why Are Ethical Issues Central to Documentary Filmmaking?" and "How Have Documentaries Addressed Social and Political Issues?"
E. Ann Kaplan, "Harlan County, USA: The Documentary Form"
Peter Biskind, “Harlan County, USA: The Miners’ Struggle”

Week 8
March 17 – No screening
March 18 – Midterm exam

March 24 – Spring Break
March 25 – Spring Break

Week 9
March 31 – Screening
Robert Gardner, Forest of Bliss (US, 1986, 99 mins)
April 1
Screening in class: Trinh T. Minh-ha, Reassemblage (US, 1983, 40 mins)
Robert Gardner, “Anthropology and Film”
Trinh T. Minh-ha, "Outside In Inside Out"

Week 10
April 7 – Screening
Guest artist Deborah Stratman
April 8

Read interviews with Stratman by Mike Plante and Mike Hoolboom, and browse reviews of Oe'r the Land and In Order Not To Be Here.

Week 11
April 14 – Screening
Chris Marker, Sans Soleil (France, 1983, 100 mins)
April 15
Screening in class: Luis Buñuel, Land Without Bread (Spain, 1933, 30 mins)
Harun Farocki, Inextinguishable Fire (West Germany, 1969, 25 mins)
Catherine Russell, “Autoethnography: Journeys of the Self”
Phillip Lopate, "In Search of the Centaur: The Essay Film"

Week 12
April 21 – Screening
Errol Morris, The Thin Blue Line (US, 1988, 103 mins)
April 22
Screening in class: Elisabeth Subrin, Shulie (US, 1997, 37 mins)
Elisabeth Subrin, "Trashing Shulie: Remnants From Some Abandoned Feminist History"
Linda Williams “Mirrors Without Memories: Truth, History and the New Documentary”

Week 13
April 28 – Screening
Hara Kazuo, The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On (Japan, 1987, 122 mins)
April 29
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 5 – Screening
Paul Chan, Baghdad in No Particular Order Part I (USA, 2003, 51 mins)
Laura Poitras, My Country, My Country (USA, 2006, 90 mins)
May 6
Ian Bogost, "Newsgames," "Current Events," and "Documentary"

Paul Chan, Baghdad in No Particular Order Part II

Week 15
May 12 –
no screening
May 13 – 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”


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