Category: Lecture Notes

Week 13 – New Documentary: Revision

As well as revising the territory covered over the last 12 weeks, today I want to take some time to reflect again (as we did in week 1) on the idea of ‘new’ documentary.

Also with the subtitles now sorted out we’ll do a ‘take 2’ on Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I (2000)…..a classic documentary to end the semester!

1 Revision/Discussion – What we’ve covered in ‘New Documentary’

We began in week 1 by considering Jung Jake’s work and asked could this be considered documentary. Lets have another look at Jung Jake’s videos now we have the benefit of 12 weeks of immersion in documentary and ask the same question:

A few other questions as discussion points:

  • what have you learned about documentary?
  • Has your thoughts changed about what a documentary is?
  • What was your favourite work watched during the semester?
  • Documentary modes?
  • ethics?

2. Project update/viewing:
Please update the class on the progress of your project. Show us any rushes/footage you have, share any difficulties, anything you’re happy with etc.

3. Class Screening:
The Gleaners and I (2000)

4. Class Discussion:
– How would you describe Gleaners?
– What mode/s does it traverse?
– Any other thoughts?

5. Submitting your Final Project and your Process Journal

A reminder on the submission method….
The submission method for your final 2 assessment projects:

  1. Upload you final project (assessment 3) to
  2. Copy the URL to your personal blog in a separate blog post
  3. Email me the link to your blog to
  4. Make sure your blog contains your process journal (assessment 2) with entries from Weeks 5 through to 15 (excluding week 7)                                                        NB. That’s a total of 10 entries

Deadline: 11.59pm Monday 10th November

6. Recommended Viewing:
Here’s a list of films that in my ideal course (where we had unlimited time) I would like to have also included for viewing/discussion:

En Construccion
The Thin Blue Line
Good Woman of Bankok
It Felt Like A Kiss
The Act of Killing
The Look of Silence
Capturing the Friedmans
Soundtrack to War
Working Man’s Death
The Miscreants of Taliwood
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
The Subconcious Art of Graffiti Removal
Jesus Camp
Stories We Tell
Heart of Darkness
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Man on Wire
Grizzly Man

Week 12 – Gleaning and more

Filmmaker Agnes Varda
Filmmaker Agnes Varda

Look at that camera!! Legendary French filmmaker Agnes Varda made the transition to digital cameras by making The Gleaners and I (2000)

The Gleaners, by Jean-François Millet, 1857
The Gleaners, by Jean-François Millet, 1857

The image which inspired Agnes Varda and provided the jumping off point for her reflections in The Gleaners and I (2000)

Week 12. Two weeks to go!

This week we’ll dive into your own projects and hopefully get to watch some rushes. Please bring what you have to show the class.

We’ll spend some time looking at some classic editing techniques, specifically track laying and J and L cuts.

I’ll also be giving you some time in class this week to work on your projects. You can use that time how you wish – either to edit or update your journal. You can even do shooting or audio recording if you can do it at uni. Let me know if you’d like to do this so we can organise equipment with Glenn.

And finally we’ll watch the classic French documentary which I’ve been threatening you with for some time now – The Gleaners and I (2000)

So, in a nutshell, the plan for this week as follows:

1 Project update:
Please update the class on the progress of your project. Show us any rushes/footage you have, share any difficulties, anything you’re happy with etc.

2. Tips for the Edit:
(i) Working with sound – Track Building, atmos, music
(ii) J and L Cuts

3. Project Work:
You have 1 hour to work on your project. This could be editing or process journal. If you’d like to do any production work (shooting or audio) let me know

4. Class Screening:
The Gleaners and I (2000)

5. Class Discussion:
– How would you describe Gleaners?
– What mode/s does it traverse?
– Any other thoughts?


Week 11 – Structuring the Documentary & The Sweetest Sound

Alan Berliner filming his father
Alan Berliner filming his father

This week I’d like to spend some time thinking about how we might go about structuring our films, which in the case of documentaries, takes place largely in the edit.

1. Class Discussion:
What’s the best way to structure a documentary?
How will you structure your documentary?

2. Finding the Structure:
A discussion around one way of finding a structure for your documentary using a 3 pronged approach:

(i) The Paper Edit
(ii) Asking questions
(iii) Collecting B-Roll

3. Interviews from last week:
Please link your interviews from last week to your blog so we can watch.

4. Project update:
Please update the class on the progress of your project. This week I’d like us to make an effort to share with the class where your project is at. If you have any rushes/footage to show, any difficulties, anything you’re happy with etc.

5. Project Submission:
Today I’d like to confirm with all of you the final submission method for your projects.

6. Class Screening – The Sweetest Sound (2001) by Alan Berliner
We watched the first 5 minutes of this last week. This week we finish it off.

7. Class Discussion:
Thoughts about The Sweetest Sound?
What mode was it in?
What other techniques did the filmmaker use?

8. Homework:
Continue your journal entries for assignment 2. This week take some time to plan out the final stage of your project. Work back from the due date and make a list of all the things you need to complete and then schedule them in. Make sure you leave enough time to complete your editing and any uploading etc.

Week 10 – Lighting for Documentaries

Week 10

A big hands on week this week. As you know I’ve been threatening some lighting workshops for a few weeks now…..this week, we finally get around to it.

Plan for Week 10:

  1. Lighting workshops x 4
  2. Watch the remainder of Cunnamulla
  3. Project/Blog Updates

1. Lighting Workshop x 4

  • Shooting Outdoors
  • Shooting indoors with Natural Light
  • Shooting indoors with mixed light (natural & artificial)
  • Shooting indoors with artificial light

The Chiaroscuro Principle

The Basics

Our aim here is to investigate some simple lighting principals. (See the 2 attached docs above) This will hopefully hold you in good stead as you move in to the production stage of your projects. We’ll focus on getting the best images in the quickest time.

In any production, time and money is usually in short supply and with documentary production we often don’t have the luxury of being able to spend a long time setting up our shots. With this in mind lets focus on a few different shooting situations and put our efforts towards maximising what we have in each set up.

Certain principals carry through each of these shooting situations while at the same time each one presents challenges which you need to be aware of. We’ll be moving through each of these situations methodically and while we’re at it let’s make sure we’re capturing good quality sound as well.

Class Exercise: An interview portrait

In groups of 4 conduct an interview. Pick a person to be the subject and another to be the interviewer. This is about making the best quality interview portrait you can muster. The framing, the sound, the light, the composition of the pictures should be right, the editing smooth and “seem-less”. Within the short time of 3 minutes the film should give us a portrait of a person, especially the inner life interests of this person. Try to interview about the hobby, interest or secret passion of the person. Preparations may take a long time, but the film should be short and concentrated – an “inter-view” going deep!

When we complete the workshops lets now look at some well lit interviews and think about how they achieved the look:

2. Screening – Cunnamulla
Following from week 9 we’ll watch the 2nd half.

3. Discussion: Project progress
Please share with the class any updated information you may have regarding the progress of your own documentary projects. Any rushes to show?

4. Homework.
Continue with your blog entries; updating them with the progress of your project.

Week 9 – Welcome Kate Blackmore & Cunnamulla

Still from ‘Girls’ (2014) by Kate Blackmore


Still from Denis O’rouke’s ‘Cunnamulla’ (1999)

This week we welcome another guest into our midst, artist Kate Blackmore. I’m very excited to have Kate come and talk to us and present one of her documentary projects, the dual screen work ‘Girls’.

Here’s a blurb about Kate from her website:

Kate Blackmore is a Sydney-based artist, filmmaker and curator whose practice explores the intersections between contemporary art, documentary film and anthropology. Since 2007 Blackmore has been a key member of artist collective Brown Council (with Kelly Doley, Frances Barrett & Diana Smith) whose live performances and video works engage with concepts of spectacle and endurance, as well as the dialogue between ‘liveness’ and the performance document. Blackmore’s solo and collaborative work has shown nationally and internationally at institutions including Artspace (Sydney), Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney), Gallery of Modern Art (Brisbane), National Museum of Contemporary Art (Seoul), New Museum (Beijing), and National Gallery of Indonesia (Jakarta). Blackmore has undertaken international residencies at the Red Gate Gallery (Beijing) and the Australia Council for the Arts International Studio (Barcelona). In 2015 she will travel to India for an Asialink residency at Kriti Gallery (Varanasi) where she will work with the Gulabi Gang, a group of over 400000 female domestic violence activists.

For more information visit her website

Also today, we may not get time to watch the complete film but I’d like us to watch Dennis O’Rourke’s film Cunnamulla (1999) in class.

Here’s a good article on it from Senses of Cinema: “The Troubles of Dennis O’Rourke” by Ian Stocks. Especially the mid-section in which O’Rourke explains his approach to documentary production – portraying it as a mix of aesthetic decision-making and patient, slightly wayward ethnography.

And some more reading around the film.

Don’t forget that your weekly blog entries still continue, discussing the issues raised in the film screening and readings. And of course writing about your process of putting your own short documentaries together. This is an assessable task towards assessment 2.

– – –

Plan for class week 9

9am – Project Work: students to work on own collaborative documentaries in class, any individual feedback or technical assistance
9.30/10am (approx) – Welcome Kate Blackmore: Screening & Discussion
11.00/11.30 – (approx) Break
12noon – 1pm – film screening – Cunnamulla (lecture theatre) followed by discussion

Week 8 – Welcome Richard Keys

Guest Lecture #1

This week I’m pleased to welcome Richard Keys as our first guest lecturer to CAOS205 for 2015.

Richard, (who happens to be the father of UOW Lecturer Nick Keys who some of you may have come across) has had an incredibly rich and varied career in moving image in Australia and overseas. He was a camera man shooting cinema newsreels in his youth and thanks to his access to the National Film and Sound Archive I’m extremely excited that we’ll have the privilege of viewing some original 16mm newsreels, some of which won Academy Awards.

Richard also had a stint as an animation cameraman in London, including with the studio that made The Beetles Yellow Submarine animated film.

Apart from the newsreels Richard has put together a program of other tasty treats and having Richard as our guide for this material is going to be a real bonus. I’m sure we’ll all get a lot out of it.

Apart from Richard’s presentation there’s a few other things I want to get through today….

1. Assignment 1 Results.

I have your results. Any comments on the process?

2. Screening –  Pitch films
Remember the Pitch doco from last session? Who finished it? Can you email me as a link or provide me with a copy

3. Discussion: Project progress
Please share with the class any updated information you may have regarding the progress of your own documentary projects.

And for my benefit can we confirm all the groups and subject matter?

4. Last weeks reading – The Essay Film

5. Tips for the Edit
(i) Working with sound – Track Building, atmos, music
(ii) J and L Cuts

6. Lighting for an interview – analysis and workshop prep
In a future workshop (most likely 2 weeks from now) I will run a hands on workshop in lighting for interviews. In preparation lets analyse some interviews in terms of their lighting as this is excellent preparation and learning source material.

To do this let’s look at this interactive doco: (Thanks Keegan for alerting me to this!):

7. Homework

Continue your journal entries for assignment 2


Week 6 – Project Pitch and the Essay Film

This week we move to the next stage of this subject where we start to focus more on our own documentaries. But first a few screenings…..

1. Screening #1

A screening of each groups ‘Nature on Campus’ part 2 documentaries.

2. Screening #2
La Morte Rouge (2006) by Victor Erice

3. Class Discussion

  • La Morte Rouge belongs to the tradition known as the ‘Essay Film’. Why might this be so?
  • Does it fit into any of the other ‘modes’ of documentary we have looked at so far?

4. Activity – Getting started on major project
Each student to bring up the subject blog, read the assessment guidelines.

Take 5 to 10 minutes to write a blog entry with any fragments or scraps that you think are relevant to your project:

  • what kind of ‘mode’ would you like to work in?
  • what size of group?
  • what sort of topic would you like to work on?

Speed Dating – Assigning groups to work together:
A ‘speed dating’ exercise where each person has 2 minutes to ‘pitch’ the idea for their major project.

At the end, people group themselves together to decide on who they want to work with – one person from each group to post the groups on the blog.

5. Activity:
[if any time left] – individuals or group to produce a 1.5 minute doco in which the idea is pitched – using whatever mode necessary to best portray the idea – upload to web tagging it “week 6”

6. Homework
Continue your documentary process journal. Update it with the latest information: topic, plans, your role, research etc.

Read the following online article on the Essay Film:
The Essay Film: Problems, Definitions, Textual Commitments

Week 5 – Review & Modes revisited

This week, with our first assignment due, we take stock of where we’re at by reviewing the territory covered so far and looking ahead to what’s coming up. In particular it’s time to start thinking about your own documentary.

1.Assignment 1 due:

Any issues? I will be checking all the blogs this afternoon.

2. A very quick review:

In an effort to consolidate the territory we’ve covered, a quick review is in order…

In Week 1 we:

  • asked What is Documentary? (and what isn’t)
  • watched and discussed works by Yung Jake
  • watched and discussed the short documentary, Lovely Andrea (2007)

In Week 2 we:

  • watched excerpts from some early films where the territory of  documentary was being forged and the styles that we are so familiar with today began to emerge.
  • We discovered some ways to categories docoumentary film by examining Bill Nichols 6 modes of documentary. (what are they again?)
  • watched the influential Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and discovered that documentary has a long tradition of a ‘creative treatment of actuality’

In Week 3 we:

  • investigated issues around ethics and the documentary film by watching excerpts from 2 films, Land without Bread (1933) and the BBC produced The Family.
  • We discovered that the act of pointing a camera at a subject raises myriad of ethical issues that we need to be aware of.
  • we made our short observational documentaries – Nature on Campus.

In Week 4 we:

  • considered Michael Renov’s proposition that documentary is in fact always an encounter between seer and seen and that while ‘the seen’ (or the world on the other side of the lens) has traditionally been emphasised, there’s no reason why  documentary can’t purely be about the ‘the filtering sensibility’. We watched an example of such a film (Stan Brakhage’s The Wonder Ring) where you could say  the film is about the interrogation of vision itself. We therefore can consider our own Nature on Campus documentaries in this more subjective mode. This was further emphasised by the fact that despite having the same subject matter, each of our documentaries were very different.
  • discovered interactive documentary by watching and discussing some examples
  • looked at the software Korsakow, which enables the creation of interactive, database films
  • discovered the genre of docofiction by watching and discussing an iconic film in this mode – Close Up (1990) by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami.

3. Class activity – Watching, note-taking, and talking:
In groups of 3, watch extracts from the following documentaries, and discuss which mode of documentary (following Nichol’s system) you think each most embodies. (To make things more complicated, remember the notion that documentaries frequently display aspects of more than one mode!)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) David Gelb

The River, 1937, Pare Lorenz

The Night Mail (1936)

Nanook of the North (1922)

Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (1927)

The Fog of War (2003) by Errol Morris

Film Ist
(1998) by Gustav Deutsch

Reassemblage (1983) by Trinh T Minh Ha

The Gleaners and I (2000) by Agnes Varda

Tarnation (2003) by Jonathan Caouette

Metallica Some Kind of Monster (2004)


Jesus Camp (2006)

This is Shell (1970) Geoffrey Jones


4. Class Activity 2 – Re-Make ‘Nature on Campus’:
Join with your group of 3. In the remaining time, make a quick turnaround documentary where you re-make the ‘Nature on Campus’ documentary using one of the above modes (your mode will be allocated to you). You will need to discuss with your group the particular aspects of this mode which will affect the way you construct your film.

Upload your film to Vimeo and link it to your blog…..include the mode you used in the film title.

5. Assignment 2 & 3
Check the Assessments link on the blog and read again the requirements of Assignments 2 & 3.

6. Homework
This week you need to make your first blog post for Assignment 2. Write down all your ideas for a short documentary (Assignment 3) including any ideas about the style, mode or aesthetic you may have. Watch other examples, link them to your blog, etc. In general begin this reflective/research process.

Be prepared to bring and pitch your ideas next week to the class


Week 4 – Interactive Modes and Docufictions

This week we take some time to investigate the field of interactive documentary and watch a classic Iranian film which merges documentary and fiction, intruducing us to the field, sometimes knows as Docufiction.

But first……I know some of you need to go to Sydney for the MCA excursion for Matt’s class. Which of you are going? There is a train that leaves at 12.35 which should give you enough time to get there.

1. Screening #1
A viewing of the class shooting exercise – Nature on Campus – from last week.
Have you uploaded these to your blogs? If not can you supply me with a digital copy?


This exercise from last week ties in with…..

2. Last weeks homework – Class Discussion:
– the Stan Brakhage Film
– the Michael Renov Article (first 3 pages)

  • What did you make of this film?
  • Is it documentary?
  • If so what is it documenting?

3. Class Discussion: Interactive Documentary – What is it?
How do we define interactive documentary?

4. Intro to Korsakow:

What is it?

5. Explore: the Korsakov home page above has a section highlighting examples of films made with this software. Check out this link. It’s a great example of a database film made with the Korsakow software.

6. Screening #2:
Today we will watch a classic of world cinema, Close Up (1990) by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami.

7. Class Discussion:

  • Close Up has been called a documentary drama, a docudrama, a docufiction, a fictional documentary….how would YOU define the film?
  • What themes does the film explore?
  • If it’s a documentary, what does the film document?
  • If it has fictional elements…what are they? What does it dramatise?
  • Can you think of any more recent examples of this kind of hybrid?
  • What about mockumentary? How does this genre fit into this conversation? Spinal Tap anyone?

8. Homework
Your journals (blogs) are due next week so I’ll ease off on the reading tasks. Make sure you brush up on the exact requirements for Assignment 1 and have it ready for next week.

Week 3 – Documentary and Ethics

This week we get our hands dirty with the video camera and do a quick turn around doco task. We talk sound for documentary, and spend some time thinking and discussing issues around ethics. Lastly, we watch and discuss some more films.

1. Class Exercise –  The Camera

In groups of 3/4 familiarise yourself with the video camera.

Find out:

  • how to insert and format the SD card
  • how to put it into manual mode
  • how to change the battery
  • how to do a manual white balance
  • how to change the aperture
  • how to change the shutter speed
  • how to focus (and check the focus)
  • how to check and adjust the audio levels

2. The Task

‘Nature on Campus’

The aim of the exercise is to give you an idea of how to explore making pictures and sounds from whatever is at hand – even though it seems very ordinary and trivial!

The challenge is: in groups of 3 or 4, make a film about “Nature on Campus” – less than 3 minutes long. It must not contain any spoken or written texts, no voice-over, no music, no acting. All sounds and pictures must be recorded by you on location. You should have both close-up shots and wide shots, both some camera movements and some locked off shots. Even within these limits try to make your film show us a certain theme or tell us a story.

3. A quick review

What are some of the things we have looked at so far?

– modes
– ethics

Lets try and consider these aspects with all our future viewing as we move through the semester

4. Viewing

Here are some things to watch in class for discussion. Firstly take a few minutes to find out any background information you can about the following 2 films:

Bunuel – Land without Bread (1933)

The Family BBC 1974 Documentary:

5. Discussion

Following on from the above two clips, remember our reading for this week was:

Why Are Ethical Issues Central to Documentary Filmmaking?

Get stuck into it and be prepared to discuss in class with your fellow students in week 3!

“What do we do with people when we make a documentary?” How do we treat the people we film; what do we owe them as well as our audience? Should they receive compensation? Should they have a right to block the inclusion of events that prove incriminating? Is it all right to have people repeat actions or conversations for the sake of the camera? Does this compromise the integrity of their actions and the film’s claim to represent a reality that exists autonomously from its filming?

A reminder, the book – Bill Nichols’ Introduction to Documentary – is available in the library as an e-reading, if you prefer to get it that way!

The whole book is valuable and we’ll be looking at it again throughout the semester.

  • What is the purpose of ethics?
  • What are the types of ethical issues that can arise in the making of a documentary?
  • How can we put in to practice issues around ethics in our own documentary work?
  • How are you going to place yourself (as filmmaker) in relation to subject and audience?


One short reading and then a reading & viewing exercise

1. A nice and easy start: It’s louis theroux on his method.

2. Complete the following reading and viewing exercise:

Watch this: (it’s only 5 or so minures)

Then read pages 1 – 3 of this article:
Away from Copying_Truth_or_Dare_Art_and_Documentary

Critically reflect on this in your blogs this week and come in week 4 with your thoughts ready to discuss. This task relates strongly to the ‘Nature on Campus’ exercise we did today in class. Why?

3. A reminder about your assessment task. It’s due in 2 weeks. Name your blog posts according to the week you’re reflecting on.

4. Upload your ‘Nature on Campus’ films and link its URL to your blog