Spring 2019

Problems in Documentary

Listed in: Art and the History of Art, as ARHA-479  |  English, as ENGL-479  |  Film and Media Studies, as FAMS-479

Moodle site: Course


Adam R. Levine (Section 01)
Pooja G. Rangan (Section 01)


(Offered as ENGL 479, FAMS 479, and ARHA 479) The filmmaker John Grierson broadly defined documentary as “the creative treatment of actuality.” How then, do documentary filmmakers responsibly balance the creative license of fiction with a respect for facts and material realities?  Similarly, how do we as viewers agree upon a set of terms or rules for judging the success of a documentary film? “Problems in Documentary” explores the complications of the documentary form, which is neither fictional invention nor factual reproduction.  This course will involve both creative and critical practice.  It is designed for students with prior experience in both studying and making audiovisual media.

Students will read, watch, and discuss material that considers key problems in documentary filmmaking (negotiating power and textual authority; intervening in versus observing events; representing traumatic events; obtaining consent; recreating the past; representing social actors; finding the right form for a subject; filming and editing ethically; navigating institutional protocols) before developing a series of individual documentary video assignments.  Subsequent discussions and critique, both in-class and in writing, will focus on evaluating these projects in terms of how they respond to the challenges raised by documentary critics and makers encountered in class.

Requisites:  A 200-level Foundations in Critical Media Studies course (“Coming to Terms:  Cinema,” “Coming to Terms: Media,” “Knowing Cinema,” “Knowing Television,” or “Introduction to Film Theory”) and an introductory film/video production course. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Spring semester. Professors Levine and Rangan.

If Overenrolled: Priority will be given to FAMS and ARHA majors, then attention will be given to achieving a mix of majors and Five College participation.


Artistic Practice, Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Issues of Race, Fine Arts for Non-majors


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019