Academic Catalog


Foothill College Course Outline of Record

Foothill College Course Outline of Record
Heading Value
Effective Term: Summer 2023
Units: 4
Hours: 4 lecture, 1 laboratory per week (60 total per quarter)
Degree & Credit Status: Degree-Applicable Credit Course
Foothill GE: Area I: Humanities
Transferable: CSU/UC
Grade Type: Letter Grade (Request for Pass/No Pass)
Repeatability: Not Repeatable


A survey of the development and practice of documentary film from the early 1900s to the present. Investigation and critical analysis of influential films, prominent filmmakers, and technological developments. Study of the economic, cultural, and artistic forces at work in the evolution of documentary film.

Course Objectives

The student will be able to:

  1. Identify and analyze the major historical developments in documentary film
  2. Identify and explain the basic categories of documentary film
  3. Identify and describe technical and production issues encountered by documentary filmmakers
  4. Identify and describe the ethical issues documentary filmmakers encounter in representing social, political, and cultural issues

Course Content

  1. Major historical developments in documentary film
    1. Novelty films 1890s-1900s
    2. Science illustration 1900s
    3. Travelogue/Exoticism 1910s
    4. Romanticism 1920s
    5. City Symphonies 1920-1930s
    6. Kino-Pravda (Dziga Vertov) 1920s-1930s
    7. Newsreel tradition 1940s
    8. WWII propaganda
    9. Cinéma-vérité 1950s on
    10. Political documentaries 1960s-1970s
    11. Media: VHS, DVD, internet streaming 1970s to present
  2. Basic categories of documentary film
    1. Expository
    2. Observational
    3. Participatory
    4. Reflexive
    5. Performative
    6. Poetic
  3. Technical and production issues encountered by documentary filmmakers
    1. Background and archive research
    2. Scriptwriting form and function
    3. Interview preparation and procedures
    4. Casting and recording narrator(s)
    5. Cinematography/lighting
    6. Designing graphics
    7. Production and post-production sound
    8. Photo animation
  4. Ethical issues documentary filmmakers face in representing social, political, and cultural issues
    1. Romantic Ethnography: Nanook of the North
    2. Protecting subjects
    3. Paying subjects
    4. Power dynamics—ambush interviews
    5. Staging events
    6. Collaboration—transparency
    7. Editing and narration

Lab Content

Screenings of documentary films on-campus or online for completion of written assignments and quizzes.

Special Facilities and/or Equipment

1. Forum-type room with projection booth, video projection system, amplified sound system. Internet access and laptop computer patch to system. Playback equipment formats required: DVD, Blu-ray.
2. Library for film research, books, scripts, Blu-ray/DVD playback facility.
3. When taught online, access to computer with email; email address, internet browsing software, and embedded video viewing.

Method(s) of Evaluation

Methods of Evaluation may include but are not limited to the following:

Written essays and papers on individual films, film movements, filmmakers
Quizzes, midterm, and final exam on readings, screenings, and presentations
Assigned discussions topics

Method(s) of Instruction

Methods of Instruction may include but are not limited to the following:

Lecture presentations, online and class discussions
Viewing of film excerpts followed by instructor-guided interpretation and analysis
Discussion and critique of assigned reading and film screenings

Representative Text(s) and Other Materials

Rabiger, Michael. Directing the Documentary. 2020.

Nichols, Bill. Speaking Truths with Film: Evidence, Ethics, Politics in Documentary. 2016.

Kahana, Jonathan, and Charles Musser. The Documentary Film Reader: History, Theory. 2016.

Hogarth, David. Realer than Reel: Global Directions in Documentary. 2005.

Baker, Maxine. Documentary in the Digital Age. 2017.

Although some texts are older than the suggested "5 years or newer" standard, they remain seminal in this area of study.

Types and/or Examples of Required Reading, Writing, and Outside of Class Assignments

  1. Critical documentary film analysis in the form of quizzes or online discussion assignments
  2. Analytical essay that requires student to select a film and develop an argument referencing the film and the reading materials
  3. Analytical essay that requires student to conduct independent research on documentary film of their choosing in relation to form, theory, ideology, or historical issues


Media Production or Film Studies