Course Title:

Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking

Sector: Communication, Digital Media Production, Ethnographic Studies, Nonfiction Filmmaking
Prerequisites: Basic skills in the use of a digital camera with computer editing software
Course Instructor: Dr. E. Anthony Collins (Tony), Filmmaker and Teacher
W:  E: [email protected]
Meeting Times: In person meetings 2x 3 hrs per 6 total
Course website:

Course Description

This is an introductory, "practice-based" course that facilitates professional development, increased self-confidence-building, technical and creative skills-building, and the application of theory in practice, and other higher learning by students in the area of documentary filmmaking.

The course will focus on “hands-on” practical filmmaking training, with the aim of introducing students to nonfiction filmmaking.  Elements of the training in teh course will include interview techniques; observation exercises; story construction and narrative structure building; writing a synopsis, treatment and script for filmmaking and performance; the use of a camera and audio equipment for nonfictino filmmaking, sound recording, log writing, and film editing. Students will work in groups by themselves or in groups off two or three, and will decide on how to divide the various tasks among themselves. Students will also have the opportunity to “pitch” their work in class and on the internet.

This couse will continue for four to sixteen weeks, with each meeting @ 3 hours each..

Each module/course is divided into several thematic parts:

  • Envisioning and planning your idea/application/proposal through self-reflective writing
  • Pre-production planning and development
  • Location production
  • Digital post-production
  • Presentation skills

Tips: Be direct Be relevant Be considerate

"NOTE: It is expected that students will need to spend up to six hours outside of class each week working on their assignments.

The assignments for this class include:

WRITING. Who are you? What is your purpose in life? Students will write a brief biographical statement.

WRITING. What is your project and request? What are you “selling”? What do you want to do in your proposal? Students will develop a written plan of work, with practical and specific plans for implementation.

DIGITAL MEDIA PRODUCTION. Location production of raw elements

READING and WRITING: Each student will read and write from the reading list.

DIGITAL MEDIA POST PRODUCTION: Online presentation of rough edit DIGITAL MEDIA: Online presentation of rough edit with “pitch” to the class

Students will demonstrate proficiency in foundation skills as they relate to the elements and principles of digital filmmaking (writing, camera/audio recording, editing)

Students will exhibit a high level of proficiency in the use of materials, techniques and media in their written work and digital media presentations

Students will demonstrate proficiency and communication skills as they are working in a team or group

Students will demonstrate the ability to articulate key concepts and terminology related to professional practices

Students will demonstrate basic understanding of the technical, creative, business, and legal aspects of work in documentary filmmaking.

An assignment receiving a grade of “A” represents the best possible example of that assignment. The work is excellent. There are no technical problems. The parameters of the assignment, such as they are, have been met with exactness. Content is both creative and ambitious and goes well beyond simple imitation of the demonstration. The work exhibits a sound understanding on the part of the student.

An assignment receiving a grade of “B” represents work that is good but could be better. The work has some technical errors, but overall is satisfactory and above average. Possibly not all of the parameters of the assignment have been fulfilled, but most have. The content is thought out to a certain point, but it is slightly evident that further inquiry could have been used on the part of the student.

An assignment receiving a grade of “C” represents work that is average. The work has several errors, both technical and conceptual. The work betrays a general lack of understanding on the part of the student. Not all parameters have been met. The assignment lacks creativity beyond the demonstration of the assignment.

An assignment receiving a grade of “D” represents work that is below average and that is in need of reconsideration. There are many glaring errors in both technique and conceptual rigor. The work doesn’t satisfy the parameters of the assignment but should be given some credit based on a low level of effort. The work displays that the student does not grasp the assigned content very well at all.

An assignment receiving a grade of “F” represents the type of work that can in no way be accepted for credit, possibly because it doesn’t exist? The parameters of the assignment are not met. The technical errors are gratuitous. The portrayed attitude is one of “blowing off.” The work should be redone.

For a good online discussion of "what is documentary film" please see:

Aufderheide, Patricia. Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Bernard, Sheila Curran (2004) Documentary Storytelling for Video and Filmmakers. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

Hampe, Barry (1997) Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos. A Practical Guide to Planning, Filming, and Editing Documentaries of Real Events. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

Rabiger, Michael (1998) Directing the Documentary. 3rd Edition. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

Renov, Michael (2010) ‘Toward a Poetics of Documentary’, in Michael Renov (ed.) Theorizing Documentary. New York: Routledge. pp. 12-36.

Sarjar, Bhaskar & Janet Walker (2010) ‘Introduction: Moving Testimonies’, in Bhaskar Sarkar & Janet Walker (eds) Documentary Testimonies. Global Archives of Suffering. London & New York: Routledge. pp. 1-34.

Henley, Paul (1998) ‘Film-making and Ethnographic Research’, in Jon Prosser (ed.) Image-based Research. A Sourcebook for Qualitative Researchers. London & New York: Routledge Falmer. pp. 42-59.

Flittermann-Lewis, Sandy (1998) ‘Documenting the Ineffable. Terror and Memory in Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog’, in Grant, Barry Keith & Jeannette Sloniowski (eds) Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. pp. 223- 237.

Rosenthal, Alan (1996) Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Barnouw, Erik (1993) Documentary. A History of the Non-fiction Film. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tobias, Michael (1998) The Search for "Reality":-l the Art of Documentary Filmmaking. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions.

Renov, Michael (2004) The Subject of Documentary. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press.


The Alan Lomax Collection [at the Association for Cultural Equity Web site]. (film database).

American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress

American RadioWorks

April Winchell's Collection of Recordings

Association of Independents in Radio (AIR). Major organization that promotes excellence in radio production work. Education and advocacy organization.

Association of Moving Image Archivists

Atlantic Public Media, a non- profit organization, founded by Jay Allison. Based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, it is devoted to serving "public broadcasting through training and mentorship, and through support for creative and experimental approaches to program production and distribution."

Appalshop (Whitesburg, KY)

Battery Radio

Bright Bytes Studio

British Film and Televison History:

Broadcasting History Links (from Elizabeth McLeod).

Canada's Version of Lost and Found Sound:

Canadian Center for Documentary Photography

The Canadian Society For Independent Radio Production. An organization founded in 1998 to serve the needs of professional and amateur radio producers and sound artists in Canada.

Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (Durham, NC)

Center for DocumentaryArts (Salt Lake City, UT)

Center for Independent Documentary

Chicago Film Archives

Cinematic Terms (and illustrations)

The Condiment Packet Museum

Dead Media Project

The Documentary Center at the George Washington University (Washington DC)

The Documentary Channel

Documentary Educational Resources: Produces, distributes and promotes quality ethnographic and documentary films from around the world.

Documentary Film Chronology:

Documentary film distributors (from Berkeley's Digital Library): bin/

Documentary Photography Online


DocuSeek Film and Video Finder: allows users to find videos from seven U.S. distributors:

"Early Cinema Gateway:" m

Encyclopedia of Television [Museum of Broadcast Communications]:


Falling Tree Productions

Film & History's Guide to Documentary Films. Stock, Archival, and News Footage Network – links to major sources of stock footage.

Glossary of Film Terms (from The New School, NYC)


Home Movie Day

Independent Lens: Independent Lens is a PBS series that presents independent film, mostly documentary, but also dramas and shorts. This companion Web site contains links to filmmaker Q&As and other content complementing the films.

Independent Television Service (ITVS) – the presenter of Independent Lens, "provides information for hundreds of independent films and documentaries, offering show summaries, filmmaker information, outreach resources, public television broadcast listings and more. Links to film companion sites and distributors are also featured."

International Documentary Association

Internet Movie Datebase (IMDB):

Light Work

Lost and Found Sound

MATRIX (Recording & Audio Guides): – features "a database of social issue films that allows viewers, educators, facilitators, activists and others to find relevant films."

Motel Americana

Moving Image Archive: Internet Archive

National Film Board of Canada:

Narrative Digest [Nieman Foundation for Journalism,Harvard Univerisity]:

Nixon's Resignation

Northeast Historic Film

Pacifica Radio Archives

Photography Glossary: glossary.html

P.O.V. / Point of View – "P.O.V. is an award-winning PBS series featuring 12-14 independently produced nonfiction films each year. Its site provides extensive resources for films featured in the series, including lesson plans, discussion guides, background info, filmmaker interviews, production journals and more."

Political Film Society – provides "politically contextualized reviews for past and present films."

Prints and Photographs Reading Room at the Library of Congress

PBS: Public Broadcasting System.

Quiet American

Radio Diaries

Radio Rookies

Race With History / Creative Change Productions

Rosebud: A Digital Resource for Film Studies. A superb site; a comprehensice glossary with hyperlinks to editing terms and techniques – and many visual examples (from Gene Robinson and Mitchell Lifton):

The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies (Portland, Maine)

Save Our Sounds

Sound Portraits

Sound Print

Square America

Story Corps

Talking History: Aural History Productions. Based at the University at Albany, a production, distribution, and instructional center for all forms of "aural" history. Its weekly radio show is broadcast over the air and via the internet.

Television Production ~ A Free, Interactive Course in Studio and Field Production

This American Life


Third Coast International Audio Festival

Upstate [NY] Independents:

Vertigo Then and Now

Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of Lynching in America


Women Make Movies

One page essay. Where will I be in One Year Three years and five years?

Meeting with Mentor. Each student will meet with a mentor in your chosen field, interview them on video and shoot them working. Then edit the material on a video less than 5 minutes.

Work as crew/team member on a creative project

Write three suggestions on how to improve the course and its web presence, sent by email to the instructor.

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