Module Details

The information contained in this module specification was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change, either during the session because of unforeseen circumstances, or following review of the module at the end of the session. Queries about the module should be directed to the member of staff with responsibility for the module.
Title Understanding Documentary
Code COMM282
Coordinator Mr P Goddard
Communication and Media
Year CATS Level Semester CATS Value
Session 2021-22 Level 5 FHEQ First Semester 15


This module seeks to introduce students to ideas about the form and function of documentary work as it has developed internationally since the 1920s in film and later television. Through lectures, screenings, reading and discussion, students will be encouraged to develop an analytical knowledge of:
• The range of purposes claimed for documentary work.
• Key forms and approaches employed at different moments in the history of documentary.
• Relationships between documentary work and the 'real world' to which it refers.
• Issues of 'truthfulness' and the ethics of documentary representations.
• Documentary-makers' strategies to appeal to audiences or yield responses from them.

Learning Outcomes

(LO1) Demonstrates a critical awareness of debates surrounding the representation of 'the real' in film and television texts.

(LO2) Demonstrates familiarity with and understanding of the terms and concepts used in describing and evaluating documentary work in film and television.

(LO3) Demonstrates familiarity with and understanding of key visual and verbal components of documentary organisation.

(LO4) Demonstrates the ability to read and critically evaluate film and television texts based on real subjects.

(S1) Proficient use of electronic resources and tools for research as specified and required.

(S2) Time management, organisation of work, proficient use of English, referencing.

(S3) Analysis of film and television texts; understanding and application of appropriate terminology and criteria.

(S4) Understanding and analysis of ethical obligations of documentary film-makers.



Introduction and Definitions
Origins - the Documentary Film Movement
Observational Documentary
Documentary as Journalism
Testimony-based Documentary
Dramatisation as a Documentary Component
The Documentary Film-maker As Performer
Mankind, Nature and Documentary Ethics
Documentary as Creative Experimentation

Teaching and Learning Strategies

Teaching method: Lecture/ Screening
Description: 2 x 2hr sessions per week will be used flexibly, depending on the length of materials to be screened. Most commonly, the first lecture/ screening session of each week will include a lecture of up to an hour, introducing topics and terms for analysis and discussing their significance, followed by a short screening; the second lecture/ screening session will often feature a brief introduction followed by a longer screening. But in some weeks the length of the first session lecture may be shorter and/ or there may be lecture material in the second session. (For 2020-21, this material will be delivered online and asynchronously.  The taught content will be delivered via one or several brief asynchronous videos each week (c. 5-20 mins).  Screenings will be made available online.)

Schedule directed student hours: 44

Teaching method: Seminar
Description: Students will attend 1 x 1hr seminar per week. Emphas is will be placed on the seminar sessions as the opportunity for topic-based discussion, drawing upon the material screened and the primary readings recommended. (A synchronous online seminar will be provided via Teams or Zoom for students unable to attend in person.)

Schedule directed student hours: 11

Unscheduled directed student hours: 0

Attendance recorded: Yes, for at least one teaching session per week.

Notes: Description of how self-directed learning hours may be used: Further reading and viewing suggestions will inform students’ private study and supplement their weekly learning. Self-directed learning will aid students in consolidating and broadening their understanding and in preparing for assessments.

Teaching Schedule

  Lectures Seminars Tutorials Lab Practicals Fieldwork Placement Other TOTAL
Study Hours 44


Timetable (if known)              
Private Study 95


EXAM Duration Timing
% of
Penalty for late
CONTINUOUS Duration Timing
% of
Penalty for late
Coursework essay. There is a resit opportunity. This is an anonymous assessment.  2500 words    60       
Analysis of a specified documentary text. Students are given a one-week window after the text for analysis is provided to complete this assessment. There is a resit opportunity. This is an anonymous   1500 words    40       

Recommended Texts

Reading lists are managed at Click here to access the reading lists for this module.