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Unit of study_

FILM3003: Screening Reality Since the 1960s

Semester 1, 2022 [Normal day] - Remote

In the age of reality television and instantaneous sharing of social media, why do documentary's truth claims, and modes of representing reality, continue to be so compelling? This unit introduces students to the history and poetics of documentary cinema, its codes of realism and its reality effects. It focuses in particular on transformations since the 1960s, including the impacts of new film technologies, television, new media, computerisation and the Internet.

Unit details and rules

Unit code FILM3003
Academic unit Art History
Credit points 6
12 credit points at 2000 level in Film Studies
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Susan Potter,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment Essay
A research essay
40% Formal exam period
Due date: 06 Jun 2022 at 23:59
2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Assignment Film Program Note (short essay)
A film festival program note (short essay) on a documentary film
25% Week 06
Due date: 31 Mar 2022 at 23:59
1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO3 LO2
Presentation group assignment The Pitch
Pitch your group's proposed documentary
15% Week 13
Due date: 24 May 2022 at 14:00
500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO2 LO3 LO4
Assignment group assignment Documentary Proposal
Synopsis, outline and treatment for an original documentary
20% Week 13
Due date: 24 May 2022 at 14:00
1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO2 LO3 LO4
group assignment = group assignment ?

Assessment summary

See Canvas for further information.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a High distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a Distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100



75 - 84



65 - 74



50 - 64



0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.

For more information see


For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 INTRODUCTION Screening reality Lecture (1 hr)  
Week 02 INTRODUCTION Screening reality Tutorial (2 hr)  
ETHICS Representing people and their worlds Lecture (1 hr)  
Week 03 ETHICS Representing people and their worlds Tutorial (2 hr)  
VOICES Now and then Lecture (1 hr)  
Week 04 VOICES Now and then Tutorial (2 hr)  
PERSUASION What is documentary good for Lecture (1 hr)  
Week 05 PERSUASION What is documentary good for Tutorial (2 hr)  
DOCUMENTARY Modes and models Lecture (1 hr)  
Week 06 DOCUMENTARY Modes and models Tutorial (2 hr)  
THE ARCHIVE Then and now Lecture (1 hr)  
Week 07 THE ARCHIVE Then and now Tutorial (2 hr)  
RE-ENACTMENT Representing the past, documenting the present Lecture (1 hr)  
Week 08 RE-ENACTMENT Representing the past, documenting the present Tutorial (2 hr)  
THE PAST IS IN US Archiving feelings Lecture (1 hr)  
Week 09 THE PAST IS IN US Archiving feelings Tutorial (2 hr)  
THE RETURN TO OBSERVATION Technological mediation and contemporary life Lecture (1 hr)  
Week 10 COLLECTIVE REALITIES Activist documentary Lecture (1 hr)  
THE RETURN TO OBSERVATION Technological mediation and contemporary life Tutorial (2 hr)  
Week 11 COLLECTIVE REALITIES Activist documentary Tutorial (2 hr)  
CO-CREATION Production, exhibition, impact Lecture (1 hr)  
Week 12 CO-CREATION Production, exhibition, impact Tutorial (2 hr)  
WORKSHOP The proposal and pitch Lecture (1 hr)  
Week 13 WORKSHOP The proposal and pitch Tutorial (2 hr)  
THE PITCH! Lecture (1 hr)  

Attendance and class requirements

Students must attend class as per University policy, including online classes.

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings


Kahana, Jonathan, ed. 2015. The Documentary Film Reader : History, Theory, Criticism  New York: Oxford University Press. [TDFR]

Nichols, Bill. 2017. Introduction to Documentary. 3rd ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


1 Introduction: screening reality

No film this week

Nichols, Chapter1 “How can we define documentary film”?


2 Ethics: representing people and their worlds

Chronicle of a Summer. Dirs. Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin. France, 1961.

Nichols, Chapter 2 “Why are ethical issues central to documentary filmmaking?”


3 Voices: now and then

Portrait of Jason. Dir. Shirley Clarke. US, 1967.

Nichols, Chapter 3 “What gives documentaries a voice of their own?”

Gustafson, Irene. “Putting Things to the Test: Reconsidering Portrait of Jason.” Camera Obscura XXVI, no. 77 (2011): 1–31.


4 Persuasion: what is documentary good for

Bus 174. Dirs. José Padilha and Felipe Lacerda. Brazil, 2003.

Nichols, Chapter 4 “What makes documentaries engaging and persuasive?”

Villarejo, Amy. “Bus 174 and the Living Present.” In TDFR #113 p.984ff.


5 Documentary modes and models

The Gleaners and I. Dir. Agnes Varda. France, 2000.

Nichols, Chapters 6 and 7


6 The archive: then and now

The Atomic Café. Dirs. Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, Pierce Rafferty. US, 1982.

Bruzzi, Stella. New Documentary: A Critical Introduction. 2nd ed. N.Y: Routledge, 2006. Chapter 1 “The Event: Archive and Newsreel,” 15-46.


7 Re-enactment: representing the past, documenting the present

 [NOTE screening starts an hour earlier than usual]

The Act of Killing. Dirs. Joshua Oppenheimer, co-dir. Christine Cynn and Anonymous. Denmark/Norway/UK, 2012) 2h46m.

Film Quarterly Special Dossier on The Act of Killing (see eReserve folder):

Rich, B. Ruby. “Special dossier on The Act of Killing: Introduction.” Film Quarterly 67, no. 2 (2013): 8-9.

Simpson, B. “The Act of Killing and the dilemmas of history.” Film Quarterly 67, no. 2 (2013): 10-13.

Walker, Janet. “Referred pain: The Act of Killing and the production of a crime scene.” Film Quarterly 67, no. 2 (2013): 14-20.

Fraser, Nick. “We love impunity: The case of The Act of Killing.” Film Quarterly 67, no. 2 (2013): 21-24.

Nichols, Bill. “Irony, cruelty, evil (and a wink) in The Act of Killing.” Film Quarterly 67, no. 2 (2013): 25-29.

King, H. “Born free? Repetition and fantasy in The Act of Killing.” Film Quarterly 67, no. 2 (2013): 30-36.

Crichlow, Warren. “‘It's all about finding the right excuse’ in Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing.” Film Quarterly 67, no. 2 (2013): 37-43.

Paramaditha, Intan. “Tracing frictions in The Act of Killing.Film Quarterly 67, no. 2 (2013): 44-9.


8 The past is in us: archiving feelings

No Home Movie. Dir. Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France, 2016.

Hirsch, Marianne. “The Generation of Postmemory,” Poetics Today 29, no. 1 (2008): 103-128.

Margulies, Ivone. “Elemental Akerman: Inside and Outside No Home Movie.” Film Quarterly 70, no. 1 (2016): 61–69.


9 Collective realities: activist documentary

Far From Vietnam. France, 1967.

Gaines, Jane. “Political Mimesis.” In Collecting Visible Evidence, ed. Jane Gaines and Michael Renov. Minneapolis, MN: UMN Press, 1999, 84-102.

Waugh, Thomas. “Loin Du Vietnam (1967), Joris Ivens and Left Bank Documentary.” Jump Cut, no. 53 (Summer 2011).


10 Co-creation: production, exhibition, impact

Kanymarda Yuwa / Two Laws. Dirs. The Borroloola Community, Alessandro Cavadini, Carolyn Strachan. Australia, 1981.

Ginsburg, Faye. “Breaking the Law with Two Laws: Reflections on a Paradigm Shift.” Studies in Documentary Film 2, no. 2 (December 8, 2008): 169–74.

Kahana, Jonathan. “Re-Staging Two Laws: An Interview with Alessandro Cavadini and Carolyn Strachan.” Framework 50, no. 1/2 (2009): 61–81. 

Santolo, Jason De. “Two Laws Still: Notes on Resonance.” Studies in Documentary Film 2, no. 2 (2008): 185–89.


11 The return to observation: mediation and contemporary life

Leviathan. Dirs. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel. US, 2012.

Pavsek, Christopher. “Leviathan and the Experience of Sensory Ethnography.” Visual Anthropology Review 31, no. 1 (2015): 4–11.

Thain, Alanna. “A Bird’s Eye View of Leviathan.” Visual Anthropology Review 31, no. 1 (Spring 2015): 41–48.


12 Workshop

No film this week

Nichols, Chapter 10 “I want to make a documentary: where do I start?”

Rabiger, Michael. Chapter 8 “Developing and Pitching a Short Documentary.” Directing the Documentary. 6th ed. Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2015.


13 The Pitch!

No film this week.



Introductory texts

Aufderheide, Patricia. Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. eBook.

Spence, Louise, and Vinicius Navarro. Crafting Truth: Documentary Form and Meaning. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011. eBook.


Aitken, Ian. The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013.



Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. demonstrate an advanced understanding of the history of documentary film in the context of the history of film more generally;
  • LO2. identify and analyse the modes, genres and representational strategies of documentary film, and their production and reception contexts;
  • LO3. critically reflect on documentary film as socio-political text, art practice, industry, and film/media commodity, and key debates in documentary studies concerning (among others) re-enactment, performance, production ethics, and the use of archival materials;
  • LO4. draw on the concepts and issues explored in the unit, as well as further independent research, to construct arguments and perspectives on documentary film.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

The unit has been revised to take account of film availability, minor revisions to assessments and due dates across the semester.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

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