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FT 560: The Documentary

"Presenting facts objectively in artistic form"

        This definition from the American Heritage Dictionary (1970 paperback edition) is a useful starting point for our study of the documentary idea as it has manifested itself in films and on television. In this course we shall analyze the nature of visual documents, the intentions of documentary makers, and their use of audio-visual techniques (artistic forms) to present facts. We will approach the subject from the standpoint of the director's use of the camera, noting how the presence of the camera influences the character of the material being documented.

        In my opinion the documentary is the most challenging of all forms of audio-visual expression. There is, however, no ideal model of a documentary and many different approaches are possible. Students are often surprised at this diversity as well as at the complexity of issues involved. So we need to understand what makes the documentary different from other forms of audio-visual expression like propaganda, or news reporting, or statements of pet peeves. We also have to ask: where is the documentary idea heading?

        The course aims to combine critical viewing skills with practical instruction in how to set about making a documentary. Just as to be a good writer you must also be a good reader, so to be a good maker of documentaries one must also be a good critical viewer of them. We must know what others have done before us, what works and what doesn't and why. Above all we must understand the importance of research, both into the subject matter of a documentary and into ways the subject matter can be brought to life on the screen.

        Assignments, class work, and grading are based on the assumption that you will be responsible for your own out of class viewing of documentaries to deepen your critical understanding of the documentary form. It is important to me that you use the books that are on reserve at Mugar. I have set aside this selection in the belief that their authors make the most useful contributions to our subject. Other works on the documentary are available and by all means refer to these as an additional resource. But not if it means ignoring the ones on reserve.

        Attendance in class is required; absence without written explanation will incur loss of grade points. Care must be taken with all written work. Poor presentation will also be penalized

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