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

Free Screening at UOW

Ivory Tower will be screened next week by the NTEU at UOW – For Free! 

Screening details: Thursday 13th August at 5:30pm, Room 20.4 on Wollongong Campus (communications bld. near library).

This US made doco, produced by the makers of ‘An inconvenient truth’, shines a light on the debt accumulated by US students in their heavily privatised tertiary system. It highlights the pressure on University staff to get ‘results’ above all else and questions if the race to the top in institutional rankings is in fact a race to the bottom.  So put the date in your diary, Thursday 13 August, 5.30pm, Room 20.4 & Book your FREE Ivory Tower tx athttps://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/ivory-tower-free-screening-wollongong-tickets-17720319954

This free screening hosted by our union, the NTEU, aims to help University Staff understand what the Uni Fee Deregulation legislation, proposed by Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, is designed to do to Australia public universities. At the screening we will also be explaining what our union, in concert with the rest of our union movement, is doing about the changes proposed. We will be explaining what staff, students and community members can do to Defend Our Universities. To find more about that campaign be there next week on Thursday the 13th August, and you can also check out more about the campaign at; http://www.nteu.org.au/defendourunis/

Spread the word, invite students & colleagues where you can, & be there on Thursday 13th August. Together we can Defend Our Universities!

If you want event flyers to distribute or more details on the event please contact Martin Cubby on the details below

Martin Cubby
NTEU  Union Organiser – UOW Branchmcubby@nteu.org.au  |  
t. (02) 4221 ext. 3701
Room 1043
Bld. 19, UOW Campus

Week 2 – Then (and now?) – Key doco excerpts & ‘gleeful sexiness’!



Stills from Man with a Movie Camera (1929) by Dziga Vertov

Week 2

Remember the new starting time of 9am today.

This week we take some time to trace the early development of the documentary tradition.

While viewing some excerpts of a few iconic documentaries, our goal here is also to tease out some of the key issues that early documentarians grappled with.

But first…..

1. Class Discussion:

Your reading last week was “Defining Documentary Film”, by Henrik Juel.

– What issues does the article raise in attempting to pin down a definition?

2. Some snippets from key early documentaries:

  • Nanook of the North (Robert J. Flaherty, 1922).
  • Night Mail (Grierson et al, 1936)
  • Berlin, Symphony of a City (Walter Ruttman, 1927)
  • The River (Pare Lorenz, 1937)
  • The Blood of the Beasts (Georges Franju, 1949)

Nanook of the North:

Watch the bit about the building of the igloo:

The building of the igloo is one of the most celebrated sequences in the film, but interior photography presented a problem. Building an igloo large enough for a camera to enter resulted in the dome collapsing, and when they finally succeeded in making the igloo it was too dark for photography. Instead, the images of the inside of the igloo in the film were actually shot in a special three-walled igloo for Flaherty’s bulky camera so that there would be enough light for it to capture img.

(From a comment on the youtube upload page).

[alternative site for Nanook: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHbU2LdStwk ]

Night Mail

The opening sequence with poem by Auden:



Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (1927):

The beginning sequence as the train arrives in Berlin:

another beautiful snippet:

The River, 1937, Pare Lorenz

“…shows the importance of the Mississippi River to the United States, and how farming and timber practices had caused topsoil to be swept down the river and into the Gulf of Mexico, leading to catastrophic floods and impoverishing farmers.”

…regarded as propaganda in some quarters…

The Blood of the Beasts (Georges Franju 1949)

“…contrasts peaceful scenes of Parisian suburbia with scenes from a slaughterhouse. The film documents the slaughtering and butchering of horses, cattle, and sheep. The film is narrated without emotive language.” (from wikipedia)

3. Documentary Modes

Presentation via Prezi on Bill Nichols’ 6 documentary modes.
You can access this presentation here:

4. Screening:
Man with a Movie Camera (1929) by Dziga Vertov

It would be remiss, in any syllabus looking at new documentary, not to view Vertov’s much cited classic. And as it turns out, our screening coincides with the film being re-released in UK cinemas this week. Take a look at this primer from UK critic Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian. Not sure about the gleeful sexiness there Peter but there’s no doubt Vertov was the punk rock film-maker of his day.

The film, originally released in 1929, was silent, and accompanied in theaters with live music. Since then numerous soundtracks have been created for the film. The version we will watch today has a soundtrack created in 1995 by the Alloy Orchestra.

It can be worthwhile watching a few different versions online. I’m still trying to find the perfect soundtrack to this film. I’m always left a bit cold by the many musical interpretations. What do you think? How much does the music alter the reception of a work such as this?

 5. Class Discussion:

  • How would you describe Man with a Movie Camera?
  • What do you think the film is about?
  • How does it tell its ‘story’? What are some of the formal devices in Man with a Movie Camera?
  • What ‘mode’ do you think it most belongs in?

6. Next Week/Homework:

Here’s your homework to be completed by the start of class in week 3:

  • Write up your weekly reflections on your experience of watching all the various excerpts plus Man with a Movie Camera. Do some extra research about these works to enrich your blog entries.
  • The reading this week is from Bill Nichols’ book: Introduction to Documentary. It’s Chapters 2 – Why Are Ethical Issues Central to Documentary Filmmaking? and it’s available as an e-book through the UOW library. Make sure you’re looking at the 2010 edition of the book!
  • Also, do some research around Bill Nichols’ documentary modes. While thinking about documentaries you are familiar with, start asking yourself which mode they belong to.

CAOS205 – Week 1: New Documentary Introduction

Lovely Andrea
Still from Lovely Andrea (2007) by Hito Steyerl

Welcome to CAOS205
In the first week we’ll go over the ins and outs of the subject – what will we be doing; how will we be doing it, and why are we doing it. The subject is New Documentary and our emphasis here will be on the ‘new’. But of course to get to grips with what ‘new’ might mean in relation to documentary we’ll need to take a look back as well.

1. Essential Details:
⁃       Subject coordinator: Lucas Ihlein
⁃       Lecturer/tutor: Peter Humble
⁃       Class structure: lecture and workshop combined into 1 x 4 hour weekly class  on Tuesdays, 8.30am – 12.30pm (review time……what about 9.30am – 1.30pm instead?)

2. Students Introduction/expectations (add to student blog page)

3. What will happen in the combined lecture/workshops?

  1. Screenings
  2. Weekly Exercises
  3. Discussions/group work
  4. Blogging
  5. Project work/Assignments
  6. Readings

…and sometimes we will have guest lectures too

4. Subject Outline/Assessment review (read through subject outline)

5. Blogs and blogging
All subject information is available at this blog. Here you’ll find workshop notes and various links to films, excerpts and readings. As you can see, a big part of the work for this subject, specifically the first 2 assignments, involves you writing and reflecting on what you see and read. You are welcome to post comments to this blog however for your main project work you’ll be required to keep a ‘process’ blog of your own.

Many of you will already have a blog you use for your studies, some of you will prefer to launch a new blog for this course specifically. Whichever way you go is fine but it must be online and publicly accessible. We will put aside some time to set this up today.

6. Readings
I will be pointing you to a number of readings throughout the course. This will be both points of discussion for us as a group and material you’ll be required to comment and reflect on as we move through the course.

What is the value of this? Media arts lecturer, Matt Wall-Smith here at UOW put it rather eloquently in another blog post. His reflections on the value of reading apply to us in this class as well. Over to you Matt……

Reading remains one of the best and easiest ways to get me out of my own head and start generating new ideas and exploring new potential. I discovered far too late in my own writing practice that the best thing to do when your are struggling or have a block is to move away and read.

Reading together amplifies this effect and one of my favourite things is to get together with a bunch of artists and theorists and read texts that we don’t really understand but which generate lots of ideas regardless – just by trying to puzzle them out.

This group is small enough and diverse enough to make this interesting and useful..much more so than me talking at you – So if I set a reading I really need you not only to read it – but to take notes – work out sections that really interest you thought were useful and bring them in ready to chat about them. Reading (and making, and research, and living) is not about ‘getting it’ but ‘getting something that you can use’ – that is – its generative…

I will not be slavishly moving through the texts step by step – there will be no comprehension test- rather – we’ll be discussing whatever elements of the text that piqued our interest. If you don’t bring the reading and your ideas it won’t work.

There is no list of prescribed texts.  Some weeks (not all) I will direct you to a reading assignment the week before a discussion.

7. Class Discussion: What is a Documentary?

8. Class Exercise:

  • Create your blog
  • email me the url

9. Screening:

Lovely Andrea (2009) by Hito Steyerl

10. Break into groups of three and consider the following questions:

  1. What do you think the film is about?
  2. How does it tell its ‘story’? What are some of the formal devices in Lovely Andrea?
  3. How does Lovely Andrea position issues of documentary truth? What does it say about the nature of documentary representation?
  4. How does Lovely Andrea work to unsettle the conventions of mainstream documentary film?

11. Next Week/Homework:

Here’s your homework to be completed by the start of class in week 2:

1. Read this article “Defining Documentary Film“, by Henrik Juel, in POV Issue 22 2006.

Here’s a PDF of the article if you want.

2. Remember your Blog! 300 words per week. Reflect on the above reading, and the material we watched. Bring your reflections and be prepared to discuss them in next weeks class.

And just to jolt your memory, here’s the Yung Jake links: