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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : Common Courses (School of Lit, Lang and Cult)

Postgraduate Course: Documentary Aesthetics (CLLC11195)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course will develop students' critical skills in analysing documentary film aesthetics in order to deepen their understanding of the form and its wider ethical and political contexts.
Course description When we watch a documentary film we tend to concentrate our understanding on what it is about rather than the form in which the subject has been presented to us, yet documentary is 'intrinsically aesthetic', argues Mark Cousins, co-author of Imagining Reality, 'it is as much about shots and cuts, structure and rhythm as fiction film'. It is also about ethics and representation and about politics and policy.

Documentary does not represent a single genre but is marked by hybridity and experimentation. Given the scope of the form and its growing prevalence across theatrical and streaming platforms, it becomes increasingly important to know how to 'read' the form in all its manifestations and concerns. How do we identify the subtext, the absences, the politics, the subtle manipulations of form we are presented with and how does that examination sit within the wider understanding of aesthetics and critical thinking around film forms. Documentary Aesthetics is a course designed to develop students critical acuity in reading and articulating an artform which plays with ideas of truth and fact, with representations of history and contemporary society, which argues with itself and allows us to view hidden worlds through the eyes and ears of visual storytellers who often, otherwise, might struggle to have a voice.

This course will consider a range of documentary films as a lens through which to develop an informed understanding of the genre and its aesthetic strategies. It will be taught through weekly presentations and activities which are designed to give students the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills; to articulate complex arguments and ideas; to participate in discussion where possible (active listening as well as speaking); to manage productive disagreement; to analyse visual material and film forms.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students on LLC MSc programmes get first priority to this course. If you are not on an LLC course, please let your administrator or the course administrator know you are interested in the course. Unauthorised enrolments will be removed. No auditors are permitted.
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  36
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework made up of three reflective logs (worth 30% of the final grade).

Write a 2000 word essay on a topic selected from a range of options set by course organiser
Create a 20 minute essay film with a short piece of reflective writing of 1000 words, on a topic selected from a range of options set by course organiser
(worth 70% of the final grade).

Feedback Students will receive ongoing informal feedback on their engagement with readings and with screenings in seminars.

Student essays and essay films will receive detailed written feedback on their return of grades, within the schedule set out by the School.

Students are encouraged to consult with staff on essay choice and research.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate knowledge of a range of documentary forms
  2. understand and engage with key debates in documentary
  3. consider questions of diversity and inclusion
  4. interrogate documentary strategies and aesthetics through close and critically informed analysis in classwork and through assignment work
  5. demonstrate the ability to make productive connections across creative and critical methods
Learning Resources

1. Bruzzi S. New Documentary. Second edition.. London¿; New York: Routledge; 2006.

2. Le Roy F, Vanderbeeken R. The Documentary Real: Thinking Documentary Aesthetics. Foundations of Science. 2018;23(2):197-205. doi:10.1007/s10699-016-9513-8

3. Ellis JC. A New History of Documentary Film. (McLane BA, ed.). New York¿; London: Continuum; 2005.

4. Nichols B. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press; 2001.

5. De Jong W. Creative Documentary¿: Theory and Practice. (Knudsen E, Rothwell J, eds.). London: Routledge; 2011.

6. Hongisto I. Soul of the Documentary¿: Framing, Expression, Ethicsof the Documentary. Amsterdam, [Netherlands]: Amsterdam University Press; 2015.

7. Saunders D. Documentary. London¿; New York: Routledge; 2010.

8. Leviston F. Disinformation. London: Picador; 2015.,contains,WHAT%20IS%20DISINFORMATION&offset.

9. Fallis D. What Is Disinformation? Library Trends. 2015;63(3):401-426.,contains,What%20is%20Disinformation%3F&offset=0.


10. Bruzzi S. Making a genre: the case of the contemporary true crime documentary. Law and Humanities. 2016;10(2):249-280. doi:10.1080/17521483.2016.1233741

11. Bruzzi S. ¿From innocence to experience: the representation of children in four documentary films¿. Philibert N (director), Jarecki A (director), Caouette J (director), Almond P (director), Apted M (director), eds. Studies in Documentary Film. 2018;xii(3):208-224.

12. Rogers H (Professor of music), ed. Music and Sound in Documentary Film. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group; 2015.

13. Geiger J. American Documentary Film¿: Projecting the Nation. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press; 2011.

14. Ulfsdotter B, Backman Rogers A, eds. Female Authorship and the Documentary Image¿: Theory, Practice and Aesthetics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press; 2018.

15. Ulfsdotter B, Backman Rogers A, eds. Female Agency and Documentary Strategies¿: Subjectivities, Identity and Activism. Edinburgh]: Edinburgh University Press; 2018.

16. Rosenthal A, Corner J, eds. New Challenges for Documentary. Second edition.. Manchester: Manchester University Press`; 2005.

17. Fallon K. Archives analog and digital: Errol Morris and documentary film in the digital age. Screen. 2013;54(1):20-43. doi:10.1093/screen/hjs067

18. Corner J. Theorising Media¿: Power, Form and Subjectivity. Manchester, [England]: Manchester University Press; 2011.

19. Corner J. The Art of Record¿: a Critical Introduction to Documentary. Manchester: Manchester University Press; 1996.

20. Cammaer G, Fitzpatrick B, Lessard B, eds. Critical Distance in Documentary Media. 1st ed. 2018.. Cham: Springer International Publishing¿: Imprint: Palgrave Macmillan; 2018.

21. Stallabrass J, ed. Documentary. London¿: Cambridge, Massachusetts: Whitechapel Gallery¿; The MIT Press; 2013.

22. Beattie K. Humphrey Jennings. Manchester¿: New York: Manchester University Press¿; Distributed in the USA by Palgrave Macmillan; 2010.

Further reading

23. Bruzzi S. Recording Reality, Desiring the Real The Right to Play Oneself: Looking Back on Documentary Film. Screen. 2015;56(3):384-387. doi:10.1093/screen/hjv039

24. Cooper S. Looking back, looking onwards: selflessness, ethics, and French documentary. Studies In French Cinema. 2010;10(1):57-68. doi:10.1386/sfc.10.1.57/1

25. Bell TR. Documentary Film as Collaborative Ethnography: Using a Thirdspace Lens to Explore Community and Race. Critical Arts. 2018;32(5-6):17-34. doi:10.1080/02560046.2018.1548027

26. Fuhs K. The Legal Trial And/In Documentary Film. Cultural Studies. 2014;28(5-6):781-808. doi:10.1080/09502386.2014.886484

27. Horsti K. Temporality in cosmopolitan solidarity: Archival activism and participatory documentary film as mediated witnessing of suffering at Europe¿s borders. European Journal of Cultural Studies. 2019;22(2):231-244. doi:10.1177/1367549418823062

28. Chung H, Luciano B. Autonomous navigation? Multiplicity and self-reflexive aesthetics in Sergio Basso¿s documentary film Giallo a Milano and web documentary made in Chinatown. In: Post-1990 Documentary: Reconfiguring Independence. Edinburgh University Press; 2015:203-216.

29. Fredriksson A. Documentary film beyond intention and re-presentation: Trinh T. minh-ha and the aesthetics of materiality. Journal of Information Ethics. 2010;19(2):67-81. doi:10.3172/JIE.19.2.67

30. Zhang Z, Ai X. From academia to xianchang: feminism, documentary aesthetics and social movement. Studies in Documentary Film. 2017;11(3):248-261. doi:10.1080/17503280.2017.1334854

31. Heinemann D, Tay SL. The French documentary in context: genealogy, aesthetics, ethics. Studies in French Cinema. 2014;14(3):157-166. doi:10.1080/14715880.2014.949452

32. Ginsburg F. Decolonizing documentary on-screen and off: Sensory ethnography and the aesthetics of accountability. Film Quarterly. 2018;72(1):39-49. doi:10.1525/FQ.2018.72.1.39

33. Ginsburg F. Decolonizing documentary on-screen and off: sensory ethnography and the aesthetics of accountability. Film Quarterly. 2018;lxxii(1):39-49.

34. Edwards D, Svensson M. Engagement, witnessing and activisim: independent Chinese documentary filmmakers¿ different positions, approaches and aesthetics. Studies in Documentary Film. 2017;xi(3):161-261.

35. Li DL. Economy, Emotion, and Ethics in Chinese Cinema¿: Globalization on Speed. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group; 2016.

36. Cox G. ¿There Must Be a Poetry of Sound That None of Us Knows...¿: Early British documentary film and the prefiguring of musique concrète. Organised Sound. 2017;22(2):172-186. doi:10.1017/S1355771817000085

37. Ishan Sharma. Activism through Aesthetics: A Study of Dissent through Cinematic Apparatus in Selected Documentary Films. PostScriptum: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Literary Studies. 2017;2(ii):74-87. doi:10.5281/zenodo.1318856

38. Stollery M, Corner J. The postwar British documentary movement - decline or transition? Journal of British Cinema and Television. 2013;x(3):387-546.

39. Hedling E. The Struggle for History: Lindsay Anderson Teaches Free Cinema. Journal of British Cinema and Television. 2014;11(2-3):312-331. doi:10.3366/jbctv.2014.0218

40. Drazin C. The origin, practice and meaning of the Free Cinema Manifesto. Journal of British Cinema and Television. 2014;xi(2-3):294-311.

41. Izod J, Magee K. Lindsay Anderson and the Legacy of Free Cinema. Journal of British Cinema and Television. 2014;11(2-3):351-369. doi:10.3366/jbctv.2014.0220

42. Hongisto I. Impossible objectivity: free indirect perspectives in Finnish documentary cinema. Studies in Documentary Film. 2016;10(2):198-211. doi:10.1080/17503280.2016.1221672

43. Cohen T. Playing to the Camera¿: Musicians and Musical Performance in Documentary Cinema. (Cohen TF, ed.). New York: Columbia University Press; 2012.

44. Jaszi P, Aufderheide P. Untold stories: Collaborative research on documentary filmmakers¿ free speech and fair use. Cinema Journal. 2007;46(2):133-139.

45. Formenti C. The sincerest form of docudrama: re-framing the animated documentary. Studies in Documentary Film. 2014;8(2):103-115. doi:10.1080/17503280.2014.908491

46. Nichols B. Documentary Reenactment and the Fantasmatic Subject. Critical Inquiry. 2008;35(1):72-89. doi:10.1086/595629

47. Murray L. Authenticity and realism in documentary sound. Westh S (director), ed. Soundtrack, The. 2010;iii(2):131-137.

48. Birdsall C, Rogers H. Resounding city films: Vertov, Ruttmann and early experiments with documentary sound aesthetics. In: ASCA, ed. ; 2015:20-40.

49. Rogers H (Editor), ed. Resounding City Films: Vertov, Ruttmann and Early Experiments with Documentary Sound Aesthetics. In: Music and Sound in Documentary Film. Routledge; :34-54. doi:10.4324/9781315851556-8

50. Kahana J. Cinema and The Ethics of Listening: Isaac Julien¿s Frantz Fanon. Film Quarterly. 2005;59(2):19-31. doi:10.1525/fq.2005.59.2.19

51. Brylla C, Hughes H, eds. Documentary and Disability. 1st ed. 2017.. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK¿: Imprint: Palgrave Macmillan; 2017.

52. Rolinson D. Documentary, positivism, and interpretivism. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 2001;xxi(3):323-325.

Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills This course will enable students to develop critical thinking skills and skills of analysis to develop an understanding of a significant contemporary form of representation and meaning-making; to articulate complex arguments and ideas in writing and through discussion; to participate in discussion through active listening as well as contributions; to manage and to learn from productive disagreement; to analyse visual material and film form

All these form highly transferrable skills which are valuable across academic research, in teaching learning and outreach and in the creative industries.
Course organiserDr Andrew Moore
Course secretaryMrs Vivien MacNish Porter
Tel: (0131 6)50 3528
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