Module Catalogue 2023/24

MCH1038 : Introduction to the Documentary: From documentation to non-fiction film

MCH1038 : Introduction to the Documentary: From documentation to non-fiction film

  • Offered for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Raisa Sidenova
  • Lecturer: Mr Simon Rushton, Dr Ian McDonald, Dr Alastair Cole, Ms Carol Lynn
  • Owning School: Arts & Cultures
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System

Modules you must have done previously to study this module

Pre Requisite Comment



Modules you need to take at the same time

Co Requisite Comment



This module will introduce students to the genre of non-fiction film known as the documentary. This screening-based module will examine the development of the documentary from the origins of the form through to contemporary documentary practice, with a focus on observational documentary filmmaking. The historical and theoretical engagement with the documentary will be developed from the perspective of film practice – thus attention will be paid to the ethical relationship between filmmaker and subject, and between subject matter and politics, as well as story construction, and cinematographic and editing approaches.

This modules aims to:
1. Trace the origins of documentary as a form of non-fiction film.
2. Assess the contribution of early documentary makers from USSR, UK and Europe in the inter-war period.
3. Assess the contribution of documentary cinema in the post-war period, including Direct Cinema and Cinema Verite.
4. Reflect on the ethical dimension of documentary filmmaking, on notions of truth and representation.
5. Examine the relationship of documentaries to the ‘discourse of sobriety’ and as constitutive of wider relations of power.

Outline Of Syllabus

Weekly themes covered may include:
- From document to documentary – overview of definitional debates
- Actualities and narrative – the arrival of the documentary form
- Grierson and the British Documentary Movement
- Alternative traditions – Vertov and documentary in the USSR
- The arrival of the cinematic documentary – the non-fiction feature film
- Direct Cinema and Cinema Verite – critique, storytelling, truth.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

Students successfully completing the module will have knowledge of:
1. The different and competing ways that documentary as a form of non-fiction film has been defined (aim 1).
2. The historical context in which the antecedents of documentary, in the form of actualities, emerged (aim 2).
3. The films produced by the British Documentary Film Movement and parallel developments in the USSR and Europe (aims 2).
4. Direct Cinema and Cinema Verite documentary movements in developing the post-war cinematic documentary (aim 3).
5. Critical reflection on the ethical and political dimensions of film practice (aims 4 & 5).

Intended Skill Outcomes

Students successfully completing the module will have skills in:
- using appropriate oral, visual and audio techniques to make a group presentation.
- writing and researching an essay.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion187:0087:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00On-campus lectures
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00On-campus seminars
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities180:0080:00Reading and watching in preparation for class
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops111:0011:00On-campus screenings
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

This module will be delivered through a combination of lectures and screening-based seminars that set out historical context for the emergence of the documentary, and its subsequent development in different parts of the world. The combination of illustrated lectures to give a structure and context for learning, and screening- and reading-based discussion in seminars will enable students to have both the breadth and depth of understanding of the documentary in its social and historical context

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2A70Students submit an individual essay of 2500 words
Oral Examination2A30Group Presentation
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The rationale for the assessments is to enable the students to demonstrate their intellectual grasp of the development of the documentary form and to illustrate this through a group presentation and the writing of a scholarly 2500-word essay. The group presentation will also assess their ability to work as part of a team, which will stand them in good stead for productions tasks at levels 5 and 6.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


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The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2023 academic year.

In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described.

Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2024/25 entry will be published here in early-April 2024. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.