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Documentary Film: History and Theory

Documentary Film: History and Theory (FMST 355) surveyed the evolution of documentary film (technological, stylistic, thematic, etc.), while taking up theoretical debates around cinematic claims to truth and representations of reality. Students examined how the documentary genre differs from other kinds of filmmaking, how documentaries make “truth claims,” and how these claims influence the ways in which these films are received and circulated. Beginning with the actualities of the Lumière Brothers at the turn of the century, students were exposed to multiple sub-genres and filmmakers, while addressing the variety of arenas in which documentary has appeared. An overarching theme in this course was that of documentary and representation, both in front of and behind the camera. The course explored the central question of “who gets to tell whose story?” and “what right or privilege do they have to tell it?” Through a culminating creative project in which students arranged in groups will produce, direct, shoot, and edit their own 3- to 5-minute documentary film, students had the opportunity to interrogate their own relationship to representation in documentary filmmaking, as well as the inherent responsibility of telling other people's stories. This course was taught by Sky Sitney as a Doyle Seminar in fall 2021.