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April 14, 2021

Consider This SUMMER 2021 Course: CTCS 511: Seminar in Documentary Film

CTCS 511: Seminar in Documentary Film

Instructor: Michael Renov, PhD
Haskell Wexler Endowed Chair in Documentary
Tuesdays/Thursdays: 9am-12pm (Zoom-shortened hours)
First summer session, beginning May 20, 2021

We are experiencing a boom period in documentary filmmaking. Much of our time in the seminar will be spent watching and analyzing contemporary work including such films as They Shall Not Grow Old, Crip Camp, Time, Tina, Collective and My Octopus Teacher.  We will be joined via Zoom by several of the filmmakers whose work we’ll see. But the class will delve into a series of historical and theoretical issues that will provide context and clarity for the work to be screened, both old and new. 

But beyond watching classic and contemporary films, what are the issues that matter for this class? CTCS 511 examines a century of documentary film practice with special interest in the historical evolution of the form and some key theoretical questions raised by nonfiction media, among them: 

What are the functions of documentary?

Is objectivity in documentary possible; what is subjectivity & how does it get expressed?

Is a strictly observational approach to documentary possible?

What kinds of truth claims do documentaries make; how do those claims get made?

What is the relationship between documentary filmmaking and journalism?

Do documentary films have the capacity to produce social change?

Can documentaries adequately represent history?

What role does performance play in documentary filmmaking?  

I ask students to keep a journal that reflects upon the material screened alongside the assigned readings. For the final project I allow people to choose between writing an essay or making a short film accompanied by a brief “think piece” situating the film in relation to issues encountered in the seminar.  

Contact Information

Name: Michael Renov