History of Documentary Film (OART-UT 1701)

The course traces the documentary film from its origins to the present day. Pioneer documentarians like Dziga Vertov and Robert Flaherty saw in documentary film the ability to portray life with a kind of truthfulness never before possible. Early Polish filmmaker Boleslaw Matuszewski wrote that while “the cinematograph does not give the whole truth at least what it gives is unquestionable and of an absolute truth.” Since those heady days, it has become all too clear that documentaries have no special access to the truth. Nevertheless, as this still-young art evolved, documentarians of different schools constantly sought new means to tell the human story. Documentary filmmaking has always been a blend of artistry and technical means and we will also explore this critical relationship. The course explores the development of the documentary and the shifting intentions of documentary filmmakers through the evolution of narrative approach and structure paying special attention to the documentary tradition’s relationship to journalism. Students examine how different filmmakers have gone about trying to convey “reality” on screen both through the use and avoidance of narration, through interviews, editing and dramatizations. Throughout the semester, students investigate how image-driven medium attempts to report stories and the ways an emotion-driven art can be problematic for journalistic objectivity. Finally, the ethical and journalistic responsibilities the documentary filmmaker are discussed. Special attention is given to dramatic re-creations, the filmmaker’s relationship to his/her subjects and the construction of narrative through editing.

Open Arts Curriculum (Undergraduate)
4 credits – 15 Weeks

Sections (Spring 2024)

OART-UT 1701-000 (7218)
01/22/2024 – 05/06/2024 Wed
6:00 PM – 9:00 PM (Evening)
at Washington Square
Instructed by Dorman, Joseph