Undergraduate Degree




DF3002 Documentary Filmmaking

[Studio Contact Hours: 39 hours; Pre-requisites: Nil; Academic Unit: 3.0]

: Nil

Academic Unit
: 3 AU

Course Description

Learning Objective

To deliver to students a practice-based introduction to the craft of cinematic non-fiction filmmaking.


This practice-based course explores the different genres and practices of the cinematic non-fiction film form. It covers a brief history of the documentary as political propaganda, investigative essay, personal journal, and cinema verite observation, through the study of the work of documentary auteurs. The course seeks to develop in the student the ability to identify, conceptualise and research a topic, negotiate access to characters or events, manage a production through efficient budgeting and scheduling. The students will create a short non-fiction cinematic narrative with coherent artistic vision, intellectual purpose and ethical rigour.


Course Outline




• Intro to course

2 - 6

• Defining the cinematic non-fiction narrative form, as distinct from the narrative fiction film form and the broadcast non-fiction form.

• The role and purpose of a documentary filmmaker 

• Understanding documentary:

- Political propaganda, investigative essay, personal journal, cinema verité observation etc

• Visions and representations of ‘reality’; 

- Truth, objectivity, subjectivity etc

• Investigation of a documentary film auteur’s body of work – understanding directorial choice in the creation of a non-fiction work with intellectual and artistic purpose, as supported by film viewings. 

• Ethical, artistic and journalistic precepts and responsibilities:

- Research, double-sourcing, fact-checking etc

• Legal issues: 

- Rights, releases, copyright etc

• Interview technique:

- Ethical and sensitive interview practise and subject relationship management etc


• Mid Sem review of assignments

8 - 12

• Documentary filmmaking methodologies: 

- Indentifying, conceptualising and researching a topic or subject

- Writing a documentary pitch proposal

- Negotiating and managing access; budgeting and scheduling a shoot 

- Documentary protocol and interviewing practise

- Editing and finishing a non-fiction cinematic narrative

• The crucial role of sound in documentary filmmaking; understanding field recording techniques


• Final review of assignments


Learning Outcome

The students will have been introduced to the problems that are specific to the making of non-fiction films. The students will have a practice-centred knowledge of how the practical, ethical and emotional gap between the subject of a non-fiction film and the filmmaker can be negotiated.

Student Assessment

  1. Final Assessment: 40%

  2. Continuous Assessment: 60% (of which at least 15% is participation)

Continuous assessment components may include:

  • Studio-based exercises and projects

  • Individual, group and team-based assignments


  1. Michael Rabiger, Directing the Documentary, Focal Press

  2. Michael Reno, Subject of Documentary, University of Minnesota Press

  3. Bill Nichols, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary, Indiana University Press

  4. Stella Bruzzi, New Documentary, Routledge

  5. Leni Riefenstahl (Dir), Triumph of the Will, 1935

  6. Albert Maysles (Dir), High School, 1968

  7. Frederick Wiseman (Dir), Gimme Shelter, 1970

  8. Nick Broomfield (Dir), Fetishes, 1996

  9. Agnes Varda (Dir), The Gleaners and I, 2000

  10. Mark Singer (Dir), Dark Days, 2000