Module Catalogue 2022/23

MCH2086 : Analysing Documentary Practices

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Alastair Cole
  • Owning School: Arts & Cultures
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Code Title
MCH1038Introduction to the Documentary: From documentation to non-fiction film
MCH1035Starting out in Filmmaking
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



This module explores the representational capacity of the creative documentary. This will involve an examination of a range of the technical, stylistic, aesthetic and representational dynamics and discussions of the ‘truths’, ‘fictions’, styles, genres, ethics and modes. This module will provide a critical understanding and insight into current documentary practices, which are informed by ‘professional practice’ and also through established and cutting-edge academic research, as well as provide students with the opportunity to create non-assessed practical exercises within these themes. The module also examines documentary traditions that lie outside and/or challenge the more mainstream documentary or television documentary practices.

This modules aims to:
1. Enable students to develop knowledge, intellectual and critical understanding and insight into current documentary practices, which are informed by ‘professional practice’ and also through established and cutting-edge academic research.
2. Enable students to study the forms, aesthetics and production methods of documentary practice as they have developed historically and in a contemporary context. The modules frames this study with a theoretical engagement with questions of representation, culture and ideology, while maintaining a strong theoretical and practical sense of the political and ethical including through fortnightly practical exercises.
3. Investigate the different ways that avant-garde, experimental documentary practices, and select visual art-practice relate to and enhance documentary practice.
4. Reflect on the relationship between practice and its relationship to theory in creative documentary practice.

Outline Of Syllabus

Students will study the practice of documentary film and engage with the debates that have shaped the academic critique of documentary films.

Possible themes include:
- The emergence and history of documentary as a genre – global context
- Theorising documentary and the representation of reality
- Cinematic documentary and the aesthetics of reality through contemporary documentary filmmakers
- Aesthetic and ethical approaches to visual representation: reality, representation and cinematic expressivity
- The reflexive film theorist - writing about the filmmaking process

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

Students successfully completing the module will have knowledge of:
- The different ways in which theorists and filmmakers have articulated the complex relationship between actuality, reality and truth (aim 1).
- The strengths and weaknesses of how a range of mainstream documentary practices have engaged (or fail to engage) with reality, representation and cinematic expressivity (aim 2).
- How to critically reflect on practice and articulate underpinning and framing theoretical positions and presuppositions (aim 3).
- How to reflect critically and analyse documentary practice and methodology (aim 4)

Intended Skill Outcomes

On successful completion of this module, students should be able to demonstrate an analytical and sophisticated understanding of complex theories and issues in contemporary documentary practice in the form of a scholarly essay.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00Concepts, theoretical underpinnings and debates. Delivered in person (online if required)
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion151:0051:00N/A
Structured Guided LearningAcademic skills activities54:0020:00Creative practice-based activities.
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities112:0022:00Directed in-person viewings (online if required)
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities114:0044:00Required reading and online film viewings.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops111:0011:00Post film viewing group discussion workshop. Delivered in person (online if required)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops111:0011:00Small-group-based on-campus teaching on practice elements of documentary making. Online if required.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study130:0030:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

This module will be delivered through a combination of lectures that set out key theories and concepts, and screening-based seminars that will expose students to a range of important documentary films and filmmakers. There will also be workshops which will introduce further theoretical elements, introduce and critically reflect with students on practical microfilm tasks, and engage students in small-group discussion.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Reflective log1A502000-word reflective log on creative practice exercises set throughout module
Essay1A502000-word essay on an aspect of creative documentary theory and practice.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The rationale for the reflective log assessment is to first enable the students to demonstrate their ability to reflect academically on the practical exercises that are set throughout the module, and tie their own practice in with taught theory. Each practical exercises explores a different area of documentary practice, such as narrative construction, archive use and personal representation.

The essay assessment is to enable the students to show their intellectual grasp of documentary theory and aesthetics and to illustrate this through a scholarly essay.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2022/23 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 2023/24 entry will be published here in early-April 2023. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.