MA Film Studies

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking in the Arts & Humanities

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST61132
Credit rating 30
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Week by week the student gains new skills in different aspects of film practice as a method of historical research and production. The course builds towards students working in small groups to produce a short documentary film.  

Students need to be available for an additional 3 days to edit the mini exercise in the film edit suites, 3 weeks over Easter, in which their main film will be shot, and 3 weeks (weeks 11-13) in the editing suites for the final film. 

Wk 1 Film as Practice and Research Tool 

Wk 2 Introduction to cameras 

Wk 3 The Grammar of Documentary Film 

Wk 4 Filming Interviews 

Wk 5 Filming Actuality 

Wk 6 Treatments, Pre-production and Mini film exercise 

Wk 7 Editing software workshop - 4 hours plus 3 days edit 

Wk 8 Screening and Critique of Mini Exercise 

Wk 9 Treatment Presentation 

Wk 10 Preparation for filming to be completed during Easter break 

Wk 11 Edit Week 1 

Wk 12 Edit Week 2 

Wk 13 Final Edit Week 3 

We expect to have involvement with guest speakers who are film practitioners. Past speakers and course partners have included Prof. Michael Wood, Prof. David Olosuga and The Manchester Museum. 


Students will become skilled in:

1) documentary film as a practice and a research tool
2) problematising academic issues in the construction of history as a filmic practice
3) problem-solving and self-reflexive practices of putting history into the filmic medium.
4) media skills, such as interview techniques, and introduce students to the technical skills of documentary film production and editing.

Knowledge and understanding


- Enhanced knowledge of documentary practice and film techniques and formulas

- Ability to understand issues in putting history into practice and practice-based research, and capacity to apply theory to practice

- Writing and presenting a film treatment

- Broadcast standard production skills

Intellectual skills


- Understand the academic debates about history and film, and the debate about how to put history into filmic practice

- Develop research skills in locating archives and visual sources

- Develop a sophisticated understanding of documentary film practice

- Summarise and critique the different techniques, methodologies and theories that historians have used to interpret films

Practical skills


- Research, Direction and Production of a 5 minute film

- Develop a technical understanding and practical capacity in the grammar of filmmaking.

- Research skills in music and archive acquisition and clearance

- Develop interview skills with subjects

- Teamwork as a film crew

- Demonstrate enhanced essay writing skills specific to the study of practice as research and the self-reflexive mode specific to reporting on practice-based research

Transferable skills and personal qualities


- Media and film training, film editing

- Enhanced communication skills (oral and written)

- Develop effective networking skills with practitioners in non-academic institutions (e.g. professional filmmakers such as Michael Wood; film archivists such as at NWFA)

- Problem solving

- Self-management and working to deadlines

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 40%
Set exercise 10%

7-10 minute film (Summative)

Recommended reading

Bruzzi, Stella, New Documentary: A Critical Introduction, 2000. 

Corner, John, The Art of Record: A Critical introduction to documentary. 1996

Gordon, A Controversies in media ethics

Grant, Keith, Sloniowski, Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video, 1998.

Millerson, Gerald Video production handbook / Oxford : Focal Press

Nichols, Bill, Introduction to Documentary, Indiana University Press, 2001

Rabiger, Directing the Documentary, 2004

Rosenstone, R, Visions of the Past: The Challenge of Film to Our Idea of History. 2000.

Rosenthal, A. Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos, 2002.

Rosenthal A. and Corner J. (eds), New Challenges for Documentary Film, 2007.

Ward, P. Documentary: The Margins of Reality, 2005

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 300

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ana Carden-Coyne Unit coordinator

Additional notes

This course offers the unique opportunity to enhance historical research skills and training at Masters level, transforming history into the medium of documentary production. The course is framed by the concept of documentary practice as a tool of historical research, and students will engage with the debate of how to put history into film through their own practice. The course is an intensive 13 weeks (plus additional hours filming and editing) in which practical training in pre and post-production film making is provided. Students will become familiar with cameras and sound, editing, interviews, writing film treatments and proposals, visual storyboarding, and other aspects of documentary practice. Students will become familiar with the grammar of documentary film as a technique, as well as issues of copyright and ethical filmmaking.

Course attendance includes film work over the Easter break.

There are no pre-requisites for this course unit.

Available as a free choice uinit: Yes

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