Representation in Documentary Filmmaking

Documentary filmmakers engage with the world by representing it in a myriad of subjective ways. This course will focus on cross-cultural issues surrounding representation in documentary filmmaking, both in front of and behind the camera. Through film production, screenings, texts, and discussions, this course will explore the central question of “who has the right tell whose story, and why?” Each student will produce, direct, shoot, and edit two 3-5 minute documentary films. One film must be set in their own cultural sphere, while the other must be set outside of it. Upon completion of these films, each student will write an 8-10 page final paper reflecting on their experience making them. Their films and final essays will probe the ethical questions of “how should we speak to you about us?” on the one hand, and “how should we speak about them to you?” on the other. They will investigate their own relationship to the role and function of the filmmaker, a mediator of “reality,” and the influence of that mediation on public discourse on local, national and international issues.

On a practical level, each student will learn the basics of how to produce a documentary short in various modes and genres. They will place their experience making these films in the context of contemporary issues surrounding race, ethnicity, gender, age, national and regional identity, social issues, and events. On a more theoretical level, they will write about and discuss ethical issues surrounding ethnography, informed consent, empathy, ideology, authorship, cinematography, editing, and distribution. They will also discuss the cultural contexts for the films they screen, why they were made, what they tell us about the social concerns of the period, and the theoretical questions they raise. By the end of the course, students will have a solid foundation to creatively bring stories from the world we all share to life, as well as a critical and visceral understanding of representation in documentary filmmaking.

Application required. Learn more at



FRS 138

Tuesdays, 7:30 - 10:20 PM


Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt