Gwybodaeth Modiwlau

Module Identifier
Module Title
From Avant Garde to Documentary
Academic Year
Semester 2
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 10 x 4 Hour Lectures


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 5,000 word critical essay  100%
Supplementary Assessment 5,000 word critical essay on a different topic  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the various ways in which films can and have challenged traditional notions of documentary

2. engage with, contextualize and analyze in an advanced manner a broad range of works from different historical periods and aesthetic traditions

3. demonstrate a systematic understanding of the importance of technology and institutions in the development of new approaches to documentary.


The module constitutes one of the critical components of the new MA Documentary. It will provide students with key theoretical ideas and historical case studies that will feed into and provide context for their practical exercises. The module is designed to connect particularly with portraiture and autoethnography, traditions from which their own filmmaking will draw.

Brief description

The module Avant-Garde to Documentary introduces students to avant-garde filmmaking through the lens of documentary, and also to the myriad ways in which documentary film has drawn on unconventional techniques that align it more with modernist aesthetics than with traditional notions of reportage and objectivity. In this sense the module maps out two intersecting, and often inseparable, histories, allowing students to gain insights into both documentary and avant-garde filmmaking. The module will follow a loosely chronological structure, examining the importance of the factual and everyday to modernist aesthetics of defamiliarisation and the foregrounding of cinematic materials, and then moving on to one of the key, and most enduring, sub-genres of avant-garde documentary: the city film, or 'city symphony.' As the module moves on we will consider the British documentary movement, French cinema verite and John Grierson's work with General Post Office, considering the importance of technology in the development of new and innovative documentary film aesthetics. We will then examine a range of themes and approaches related to the phenomenology of the body, portraiture, science and nature, autothnography, and memory, before considering recent intersections between gallery art and documentary, particularly through the re-embracing of narrative and classical pictorialism, as well as the implications of diverse exhibition spaces and the economies of attention and distraction. Drawing on a range of art historical and documentary film theories, and questions of politics and ethics, the module will provide students with a solid grounding in two boundary-breaking areas of film production.


Course delivery:

10 x 4 hour Lecture/Seminars/Viewings

1. Documentary Film and Modernism: Medium, Materialism, and the Poetics of the Everyday

2. City Symphonies: Dziga Vertov, Walter Ruttman

3. John Grierson and the General Post Office

4. Frederick Wiseman, Jean Rouch and the 1960s

5. Exploring Inner Vision: Stan Brakhage and the Camera-body

6. Documentary Film as Portraiture: Andy Warhol'r Screen Tests

7. Nature from Jean Painleve to Nathaniel Dorsky

8. Autoethnography and Memory: Chris Marker

9. Documentary Film in the Gallery: Anri Sala, Aija-Liisa Ahtila, Tacita Dean, Pierre Huyghe

10. Archival Interventions: Found Footage as Documentary Practice

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Not applicable
Communication Communication skills will be developed during seminar discussion but will not be assessed.
Improving own Learning and Performance Students will independently assess their on-going learning and performance in the development of their critical essay.
Information Technology Whilst the Department expects written work to be presented in word processed form, this will not be assessed.
Personal Development and Career planning The module is an intrinsic part of a scheme that requires students to consider their work within a context of professional practice. However, the module itself will not directly assess this skill.
Problem solving Students will develop ways to solve both creative and practical production problems using research and professional practice skills
Research skills Students will develop their research methods and procedures and the efficacy of these will be assessed in the critical essay.
Subject Specific Skills
Team work Students will collaborate informally during seminar discussion.


This module is at CQFW Level 7