1. Handbook
  2. Subjects
  3. Ethnographic and Documentary Cinema

Ethnographic and Documentary Cinema (SCRN40003)

HonoursPoints: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

You’re viewing the 2019 Handbook:
Or view archived Handbooks


Year of offer2019
Subject levelHonours
Subject codeSCRN40003
Semester 1
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

This subject investigates the place of documentary and ethnographic film in contemporary film theory. Students should become familiar with postmodern debates surrounding documentary film-making and realism, and the critique of ethnographic cinema as linked to nationalism and imperialism and what we might describes as the filming of the ‘other’. A central issue for discussion will be that of the ethical challenges which face documentary filmmakers.

We will study a wide range of classic works such as Nanook of the North (Flaherty, 1922), The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (Field, 1980), The Thin Blue Line (Morris1988), Bowling for Columbine (Moore, 2002) and Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005). There will be a focus on recent forms of documentary film that have taken up contemporary social issues such as sexuality, gender, race, the environment, social violence and the plight of non-human animals. Students should develop a knowledge of various forms of documentary cinema, including self-reflective modes, 'cinema verite', direct interview, surrealist documentary, docufiction and mockumentary. Also important will be an understanding of aesthetic issues such as the ethnographic gaze,realism, point of view and haptic visuality.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this subject, students should have:

  • have a broad knowledge of ethnographic and documentary cinema from its inception to the contemporary period; and
  • have a detailed knowledge of the theoretical debates surrounding ethnographic and documentary film making and its reception.

Generic skills

At the completion of this subject, students should gain the following generic skills:

  • skills in research;
  • possess advanced skills of critical thinking and analysis;
  • possess an ability to communicate knowledge intelligibly, economically and effectively; and
  • have an understanding of social, ethical and cultural context.

Last updated: 3 August 2019