Course Syllabus and On-Line Resource Links
Spring 2006

HISTORY 390 [6144] & 530 [6148]
Prof. Gerald Zahavi
Dept. of History, University at Albany-SUNY
Classroom: LE G-24 (History Digital Classroom 4 - Science Library)
Course Schedule: Tu 4:40-7:30
Office: Ten Broeck 202
Phone: 518-442-4780
Office Hrs: M, Tu 2:00-4:00
and by appointment
E-mail: [email protected]

Course Assistants Introduction Academic Integrity Grading
Film Production Teams Readings/Software Resources Video on the Web
Course Outline Class 1-Jan. 24 Class 2-Jan. 31 Class 3-Feb. 7
Class 4-Feb. 14 Class 5-Feb. 28 Class 6-Mar. 7 Class 7-Mar. 14
Class 8-Mar.21 Class 9-Mar. 28 Class 10-Apr. 4 Class 11-Apr. 18
Class 12-Apr. 25 Class 13-May 2 Class 14-May 9  


John Warren (Office: TB 302-2, T-Th. 2-4 pm)
Susan McCormick (Office: TB 202-1, T 2-4 and by appt.)


This is not a course for the lazy or timid. This is not a course for those who value passive learning, and want knowledge delivered to them in neatly bundled lectures. This is a course taught on the fundamental principles first laid out by education philosopher John Dewey, that there is no real learning without doing. If you believe that analysis and practice go hand-in-hand, then you will get much out of -- and do well in -- this course. It will introduce you to the theory and practice of historical documentary film/videomaking.

John Grierson, widely acknowledged as the "father" of the documentary film, defined documentaries as "the creative treatment of actuality." Documentaries are essentially non-fiction works focusing on political, social, economic, cultural, or historical topics, built on primary sources of all sorts and informed by a particular point of view. Documentaries and documentary projects have become significant vehicles for communicating historical issues to millions of listeners and viewers. The growing interest of audiences in the documentary form, combined with advances in technology that make documentary production affordable and accessible, offer an opportunity for historians and history students to apply the tools of documentary filmmaking to the telling of historical stories of all kinds, intended for both academic and non-academic audiences.

Beginning with a review and analysis of the general history of the documentary film genre and the varieties of approaches adopted by non-fiction filmmakers, we will start to systematically unravel the various elements that contribute to the creation of informative, moving, and powerful historically-focused documentary films. We'll look at the various modes or styles that have evolved in the course of the genre's development: expository, observational, interactive, reflective, and assorted hybrid modes. We'll view and discuss a broad spectrum of documentaries, but our main attention during the bulk of the semester will will be on historical documentaries focusing on a variety of subjects and themes, and on techniques for effective visual communication of historical ideas. We'll cover aesthetics and research, legal and ethical issues, and -- of course -- production. A central aim of the course is to introduce students to the basic techniques of historical documentary production--from pre-production planning, research, and writing, to production (filming/videotaping interviews, recording voiceover narration, lighting, filming reenactments), and finally, post-production (editing and mixing actualities, music, narration, interviews, and still photographs). The course, in short, is designed to teach students both critical and practical, technical skills.


The following statement of policy is required by the University at Albany: It is assumed that your intellectual labor is your own. If there is any evidence of academic dishonesty, including plagiarism, the minimum penalty will be an automatic failing grade for that piece of work. Plagiarism is taking (which includes purchasing) the words and ideas of another and passing them off as one’s own work. If another person’s work is quoted directly in a formal paper, this must be indicated with quotation marks and a citation. Paraphrased or borrowed ideas are to be identified by proper citations.


Grades will be based on:

* class attendance, preparation, and participation -- including discussion of assigned readings (20%)
* assignments and documentary reviews (50%): in addition to the specified assignments, all students are responsible for viewing at least two (2) documentaries -- not including The Fog of War assigned to all class members for our Feb. 14th class -- and a preparing a short 1-2 pp. review/reaction essay and oral presentation on the two films. The films should be drawn from the list of films that appear in the weekly schedules below and should be selected from two separate lists. More details on this in class.
Your short essays are due on the day we cover the film in class. You should email the review to me before class; you do not have to hand in a paper copy.
* participation in a semester-long film production project (30%) (there will be three production teams organized, each focusing on a different film project of approximately 15-25 minutes length).


As noted above, the class will be divided into three production teams (filmmaking is, after all, inherently a collaborative endeavor) and we will produce three historical documentary films over the course of the semester. Doctoral students John Warren and Susan McCormick will be assisting me in coordinating the production aspects of the course, and will offer support in all other aspects of the course as well. John has real-world experience in professional documentary filmmaking, having worked on several historical documentary productions for Henninger Media in Arlington, Virginia. He has also taught television production at Ithaca College. Susan has extensive experience in oral history and audio/documentary/feature production (she's a co-producer of Talking History, our weekly history radio show, and has taught workshops in oral history and radio documentary production at Columbia University and at various national professional conferences). Among other things, they will help you deal with your technophobias--as will I.


  • Required Readings (these are our core texts; they will be supplemented by readings and resources outlined below):
    • Erik Barnouw, Documentary: A History of the Non-fiction Film, 2nd revised edition (Oxford University Press, 1993).
    • Bill Nichols, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary (Indiana University Press, 1991).
    • Michael Rabiger, Directing the Documentary, 4th edition (Focal Press, 2004). [For those of you who have obtained the 3rd edition, I have tried to specify the relevant sections in the latter that match the assignment in the 4th edition.]
    • Additional readings are available on the World Wide Web through links on this syllabus and on electronic reserve. Some items, due to copyright/fair use restrictions are ONLY available to enrolled class members on electronic reserve.
  • Recommended Texts (we may use short selections from some of these--and from several other texts; they will be accessible on electronic reserve; you will receive the access password in class):
    • Richard Meran Barsam, Nonfiction Film: A Critical History (Indiana University Press, 1992).
    • Sheila Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling for Video and Filmmakers (Focal Press, 2004).
    • Jack C. Ellis and Betsy A. McLane, A New History of Documentary Film. New York: Continuum, 2005).
    • Ralph Engelman, Public Radio and Television in America (Sage Publications, 1996).
    • Barry Hampe, Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos (Henry Holt and Co., 1997).
    • Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary (Indiana University Press, 2001).
    • Alan Rosenthal, Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos, 3rd edition (Southern Illinois University Press, 2002).
    • Liz Stubbs, Documentary Filmmakers Speak (Allworth Press, 2002).
    • Brian Winston, Claiming The Real: The Documentary Film Revisited (British Film Institute, 1995).
  • Software: There are a variety of digital editing software packages available for post-production work. Two excellent introductory programs are Sony's Vegas Movie Studio 6.0 for PC users (available free for an initial 30 day trial period and for around $60 with an educational discount at (go to for the 30-day trial edition) and -- for Mac users -- Final Cut Express 2 (available for as low as $100). Both support editing and mixing of multiple audio and video tracks--and have extensive features. Both are also the base versions of far more powerful (and expensive) programs, and both will be available on computers in the History Department's Digital Media Lab, as well as in IMC in the main library. Special educational pricing is available for students and faculty, so wait before you buy. More details will be announced in class. Manuals for the software are available on electronic reserve and also on the publishers' Web sites [for SONY Vegas go to:
  • Hardware:
    • A small computer lab with 4 workstations will be available for your use (1 Mac and 3 PCs). Three very basic SONY cameras, one higher-end Canon LX-1 camera, and several audio recording kits will also be available for short-term loan. We also have a couple of tripods and a lighting kit than can be borrowed. BE VERY RESPONSIBLE with this equipment; we do not have a replacement budget, so what gets broken can't be replaced. A formal short-term loan sign-out sysem will be explained in class.
    • Students interested in doing at-home editing and production work should have:
      • computers with adequately fast processors (a bare minimum for small projects: 800+ MHz G4 processors on a Mac; 800+ MHz processor on a PC), and plenty of RAM (Random Access Memory), ideally 512 MB or more. More details in class.
      • a DVD-R/+R/RW recording drive
      • plenty of hard drive storage (at least 100-200 Gigabytes free for media storage and manipulation, either in an internal hard-drive or a portable external hard drive -- at least 7200 rpm; avoid 5400 rpm drives. Internal and external 200 GB drives now cost less than $100 during a typical sale.
      • a firewire port (for importing and exporting media).
      • Decent and inexpensive digital video camcorders are now available for high quality recording. Whatever you use, you should make sure it has the capability of accepting an external microphone, and ideally, one whose levels you can control. Most inexpensive videocameras do not accept external microphones and do not allow you to override the automatic level control (ALC) that controls sound recording levels. As noted above, some equipment will be available for you to use in preparing projects, but since this is the first time this course is being offered and we do have a shortage of funds, this equipment is limited and can only be checked out for short periods of time.
      • If you are interested in purchasing your own equipment, you might want to check out the specially priced Apple video- and audio-editing computing packages the Departments of Art, Music, and History have negotiated for their students (see: For cameras, sound recorders, microphones, lighting kits, and other peripheral equipment and supplies, see B&H Photo-Video-Pro Audio Corp [] and Full Compass []). E-Bay is a good source of used equipment, though you should pay close attention to the ratings of the sellers! There are also many other used equipment and auction sites now on the Internet.



Please note that some of the video files that will periodically be made available on this syllabus are encoded as "streaming" compressed files -- either as RealMedia, QuickTime, or Windows Media files. That means that you will not have to wait for minutes or hours to download the whole file before starting to view it. Files begin playing as soon as usable digital packets have streamed down from the server to the client (your computer). However, you'll need appropriate video streaming browser plug-in programs to view these files.

Course Outline

Each class will be roughly divided into three segments: history and theory, film analysis, and production skills. In many cases, the segments will heavily overlap and quite often, films we'll examine during one class and lesson will overlap categories and be appropriate in another class (I will refer to them where and when they are relevant). Classes will build on each other, developing and extending ideas and skills introduced in previous lessons. History and theory segments will concentrate on the history and development of the various modes of documentary and historical documentary cinema, as well as the underlying theory that guides them. Our film viewings and analyses will examine the full range of historical documentary work: biographies, political history, cultural studies, the history of war and revolution, racial and ethnic history, science and technology, and much more -- and will help develop your theoretical, structural, stylistic, aesthetic, and technical evaluative sensibilities. Production skill lessons will cover pre-production planning and development, production (both studio and field work), and post-production procedures.

Please try not to miss classes as they will be very tightly packed with a great deal of information and will be difficult to make up.

The Syllabus will be periodically updated with supplementary resource links, additional recommended readings (including some available on electronic reserve), and viewable film/technical clips, so check back often.

~ ~ ~

Class 1 (Tuesday, Jan. 24): "The Creative Treatment of Actuality": An Introduction to Documentaries and Documentary Filmmaking

History and Theory: What is a documentary?; What is a history documentary? Aural and visual documentaries.
Film Analysis: "To Provide a True, Authentic, Factual Record": Early non-fiction cinema.
Production Skills: The elements of documentary production; developing story and production ideas; introduction to audio and video hardware; introduction to basic video editing; software; introduction to group projects.

FILMS: The short films of the Lumière brothers:; Thomas Edison's Annie Oakley [1894]; On-line selections from early cinema:; Edison Motion Pictures (Library of Congress):; McKinley and the Pan-American Exposition, 1901 (Library of Congress):; G. W. (Billy) Bitzer and the Westinghouse films:; Before and After the Great Earthquake and Fire: Early Films of San Francisco, 1897-1916 (Library of Congress):; Spanish-American War Films, 1898-1901:; America at Work, America at Leisure, 1894-1915 (Library of Congress): [includes a wonderful 1901 film of the Albany, NY fire department on parade].

WWW Sources:

Class 2 (Tuesday, Jan. 31): The Range of Early Documentary Work, I: 1900-1930

History and Theory: Historical overview, pre-1930 -- movements, manifestos, ideologies, and documentary work.
Film Analysis: Examples of work from the 1920s -- Flaherty, Vertov, Eisenstein, Grierson
Production Skills: Production crews, production roles, and the production process.

Group Projects: Production teams in place and group projects developed and assigned.

FILMS: In the Land of the Head-Hunters ~ also called In the Land of the War Canoes (Edward S. Curtis, 1914) [for more information about Curtis and his work, see]; Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1922); Moana (Robert Flaherty, 1926); Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1925); Kino-Eye (Dziga Vertov, 1924); The Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929); Strike (Sergei M. Eisenstein, 1925); Battleship Potemkin (Sergei M. Eisenstein, 1925); October (Ten Days That Shook the World) (Sergei M. Eisenstein, 1927); H2O (Ralph Steiner, 1929); Drifters (John Grierson, 1929); Grierson (Roger Blaise, 1973) [a film about Grierson, the British documentary movement, and Canada's National Film Board].

Required Readings:

  • Michael Rabiger, Directing the Documentary, 4th ed., pp. 3-46 ("The Director's Role," and "A Brief and Functional History of the Documentary"); 128-139 ("Developing Your Story Ideas"), 256-281 ("Developing a Crew" and "Preproduction Meeting/Developing a Checklist") [3rd ed., pp. 3-51; 113-152].
  • Erik Barnouw, Documentary: A History of the Non-fiction Film, pp. 1-81.
  • Bill Nichols, Representing the Real, pp. 3-31.
  • Assignments:

    1) This is a brainstorming exercise: the group projects will evolve from your ideas! In preparation for the selection of topics by the three production teams, please think about potential historical documentaries about any aspect of the history of the Capital Region, and come up with a 2-3 sentence "pitch" for your idea. Topics may focus on communities (Schenectady, Troy, Cohoes, Albany, etc.), local institutions, racial and ethnic relations and history, political history, NYS government, local culture, education, religion etc. . . .Think about all of the following factors in considering your topics (though you don't actually have to research them now; that will follow): Might visual or aural sources be available? Are there interesting locations that could be used for filming? Are there ample research materials available to develop the story? Might there be experts, informants/eyewitnesses available to interview? Bring in your suggested topics and speculations on the previous questions (no more than 1 paragraph).

    2) Find any academic history article that you believe would be amenable to translation into a film/videdo documentary. Develop --in a short essay (3-5 pp)--a plan for how you would go about adapting the article into cinematic form. You might look at The Journal of American History, The American Historical Review, or more specialized journals such as the Journal of Social History, Labor History, and so on for articles wto work with. Identify visual and audio elements you would need to produce your piece--and bring one to class.

    Recommended Readings:

    Production Teams: Below is a rough breakdown of how work responsibilities will be distributed in the production teams. John Warren will give you a more detailed breakdown in class:

    All members of the production team will be responsible for: 1) Research and acquiring archival images 2) Logging, transcribing, dubbing, etc. 3) Being present for string out and rough cut reviews.

    Producer: Sets-up interview (arranges for all necessary equipment, props, and personnel), scouts locations, creates call-sheet, manages logistics on location, works with writer and director to organize the acquisition of materials and production schedule.

    Director / Camera Operator: Scouts locations with producer, primary responsibility regarding shooting and acquiring necessary images on location and working with editor during editing.

    Writer / Lighting Director: Primary responsibility for story research and writing (working with Director and Producer), serves as Lighting Director on location.

    Editor / Key Grip: Loads (working with assistant editor), edits (working with director), and outputs. Serves as a key grip on location assisting in setting up and tearing down, and managing the proper breakdown and packing of gear (in conjunction with producer).

    Audio / Assistant Editor / Writers Assistant: Responsible for location audio, audio design and mix in post, acquiring music and nat sound, and working with editor on the acquisition and placement of audio elements. Assists in loading and string out editing. Assist writer as required for additional research, script proof reading. Serves as scratch voice over if required.

    Some of the above may be divided-up, depending on enrollment.
    For a detailed breakdown of typical crew positions in a professional shoot, see:

    Class 3 (Tuesday, Feb. 7) : The Range of Documentary Work, II: Documentary Film During the Great Depression

    History and Theory: 1) An introduction to documentary modes 2) The state and documentary
    Film Analysis: Introduction to shifting documentary modes in the 1930s
    Production Skills: Archival and secondary source research in textual and visual records; Releases, permissions, and rights research.

    Group Projects: Production teams working on research.

    FILMS: Hunger (1932); Contact (Paul Rotha, 1933); Hands (Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke, 1934); Shipyard (Paul Rotha, 1934); Granton Trawler (John Grierson, 1934); Man of Aran (Robert Flaherty, 1934); How the Myth Was Made (Jim Brown and George Stoney, 1978) [this is a film about the making and legacy of Man of Aran]; Song of Ceylon (Basil Wright, with John Taylor, 1935); Housing Problems (Edgar Anstey and Arthur Elton, 1935); Night Mail (Harry Watt and Basil Wright, 1936); The Plow That Broke the Plains (Pare Lorentz, 1936); Coal Face (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1935); Workers and Jobs (Arthur Elton, 1935); Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1936);The River (Pare Lorentz, 1937);The Spanish Earth (Joris Ivens, 1937); China Strikes Back (Harry Dunham, 1937); Heart of Spain (Paul Strand and Leo Hurwitz, 1937); The City (Herbert Kline and Geza Karpathi, 1937); People of the Cumberland (Elia Kazan and Ralph Steiner, 1938); Power and the Land (Joris Ivens, 1940); And So They Live (John Ferno and Julian Roffman, 1940); Valley Town (Willard Van Dyke, 1940); The Land (Robert Flaherty, 1941); Native Land (Leo Hurwitz and Paul Strand, 1942).

    Additional film resources: Attica New York State Police film footage (available from the instructor or at the New York State Archives); selected films from the Ford Film collection at the National Archives (available from the instructor and at the National Archives, College Park, Maryland); selected films from various newsreels: Universal Newsreels (available from the instructor, at the Internet Archive, and at the National Archives (College Park). Also, selections from the Fox Movietone collection (Univ. of South Carolina) and the Hearst-MGM News of the Day collection (UCLA).

    Required Readings:

  • Michael Rabiger, Directing the Documentary, 4th ed., pp. 51-57 ("Elements of the Documentary"; 207-255 ("Initial Research and Draft Proposal;" "Research Leading Up to the Shoot;" "Missions and Permissions") [3rd ed., pp. 113-142].
  • Erik Barnouw, Documentary: A History of the Non-fiction Film, pp. 86-139.
  • Review last week's reading, Bill Nichols, Representing the Real, pp. 3-31 and read quickly pp. 32-75 (we will cover this in more detail on February 28th).
  • Assignment:
    Identify ten (10) distinct cinematic, still images, and audio elements -- with a minimum of two of each -- to use in your group documentary project. Search through the various databases at your disposal -- on-line (Library of Congress, National Archives, etc.), in our library, at the Albany Institute of History and Art, at the New York State library or archives, or any other public or private archive. Discuss your source, recording media, copyright/access restrictions, quality of the film/video and audio (if you have access to the recordings or if such information is available from the archive)--and speculate on how you would use the segments. Hand in or email (if small enough) a sample/copy/scan of any ONE visual element (film clip, photograph, graphic image) on a CD or DVD along with a short discussion of your selections (1-2pp).

    Recommended Readings:

    Archival Resources:


  • NPR's Sound Library Directory. A guide to audio archives around the country.
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound. "The Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound of the New York Public Library is one of the richest resources of recorded sound in the world. The aural landscape that helps define a community, a country, or a cultural era can be studied through the Archives extraordinary holdings, which cover virtually every aspect of recorded sound--from Mozart to Maria Callas to Motown, from symphonic works to presidential speeches, from radio dramas to television specials." The Archives contains approximately 500,000 recordings and more than 10,000 printed items. See:
  • Library of Congress Sound Collections ~ SONIC Search Engine. The Library of Congress Recorded Sound Collection contains over 2.5 million audio recordings in a variety of physical formats. The collection includes radio broadcasts, spoken word recordings, as well as vocal and instrumental music. Through SONIC you can access a sizable portion--though not all--of the library's holdings.
  • Association for Recorded Sound Collections. "Founded in 1966, the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to research, study, publication, and information exchange surrounding all aspects of recordings and recorded sound." It "provides a forum for the development and dissemination of discographic information in all fields and periods of recording and in all sound media. In addition, ARSC works to encourage the preservation of historical recordings, to promote the exchange and dissemination of research and information about them, and to foster an increased awareness of the importance of recorded sound as part of any cultural heritage."
  • History and Politics Out Loud. A searchable archive of historical audio resources.
  • The National Gallary of the Spoken Word. When completed, this site will offer researchers a fully searchable online database of spoken word collections spanning the 20th century. The project is just beginning.
  • British Library National Sound Archive []. This link will take you to the catalogue of the British Library National Sound Archive, which includes entries for almost 2 1/2 million sound recordings. The Catalog "is one of the largest catalogues of its kind anywhere in the world, covering both published and unpublished recordings in all genres from pop, jazz, classical and world music, to oral history, drama and literature, dialect, language and wildlife sounds."
  • Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music []. This "is the largest university-based ethnographic sound archives in the United States. Its holdings cover a wide range of cultural and geographical areas, and include commercial and field recordings of vocal and instrumental music, folktales, interviews, and oral history, as well as videotapes, photographs, and manuscripts. As a research and teaching facility, the Archives serves a wide community of scholars, students, musicians and teachers---on campus and throughout the world."
  • Radio Archive of the University of Memphis. A catalog of thousands of radio programs broadcast since the 1920s. The collection is housed in the Microforms Department of the McWherter Library at the University of Memphis. Copies of audio tapes can be obtained at very low cost. An incredible resource for documentarians.
  • The G. Robert Vincent Voice Library. An excellent source of both on-line and original audio. From the Web site: "The Vincent Voice Library contains over 1100 collections of spoken word audio recordings. Each collection is described by an online finding aid that contains information about the collection in general, and provides a description of and access information for each recording. In total, there are close to 10,000 individual recordings described. All the recordings are available for listening in the Vincent Voice Library. . . . We are currently in the process of digitizing all the recordings. As material becomes digitized and copyright restrictions permitting, recordings will become available on the Web through the links found in the finding aids."
  • Conservation OnLine document library - Preservation of Audio Materials. The Photographic and Recording Media Committee of the Preservation and Reformatting Section of ALA has collected a number of links to online resources, including this one on preservation of audio resources.
  • James R. Smart, compiler, Radio Broadcasts in the Library of Congress, 1924-1941: A Catalog of Recordings (Washington DD: Library of Congress, 1982).
  • Michael R. Pitts, Radio Soundtracks: A Reference Guide (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1976).
  • The Care and Handling of Recorded Sound Materials.
    Gilles St. Laurent of the Music Division of the National Library of Canada focuses on the reservation of audio recordings.

    Class 4 (Tuesday, Feb. 14): Interviewing / Scripting

    History and Theory: The theory and practice of good cinematic interviews.
    Film Analysis: 1) Generational, biographical, family, and autobiographical documentaries 2) Interviews on camera - variations
    Production Skills: The interviewing process; introduction to scripting and scripts; the script as a working document, an organizing and reference guide.

    Group Projects: Production teams continue working on research.

    FILMS: Gertrude Stein: When This You See, Remember Me (Perry Miller Adato, 1971); Georgia O'Keefe (Perry Miller Adato, 1977); The Unknown Chaplin (Thom Anderson, 1982); Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist (Saul Turell, 1980); Portrait of Maya Angelous (David Gruber, 1982); Ida B. Wells (William Greaves, 1989); The Times of Harvey Milk (Robert Epstein, 1989); Days of Waiting (Stephen Okasaki, 1989); Shoa (Claude Lanzmann, 1985); Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima (John Junkerman and John W. Dower, 1986); 7 Up (Paul Almond, 1963); 14 Up / 21 Up / 28 UP / 35 UP (Michael Apted, 1970-1991); Tennessee Williams South (Harry Rasky, 1985); Which Way EJ? (Brian Mauriello, 1996); The Fog of War (Errol Morris, 2003); Arguing the World (Joseph Dorman, 1997) [see the following article from Humanities for background on this film:]; Timothy Leary's Dead (Paul Davids, 1997); Nobody's Business (Alan Berliner); The Rockefellers [Web site:] (Elizabeth Deane, 1994); Eleanor Roosevelt [Web site:] (Sue Williams, 2000); A Midwife's Tale (Laurie Kahn-Leavitt, 1996); Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train (Deb Ellis & Denis Mueller, 2004); Once Removed (Julie Mallozzi, 2005).

    Required Readings:

  • Michael Rabiger, 4th ed., Directing the Documentary, 329-374 ("Interviewing;" "Directing Participants;" "Directing the Crew;" "Authorship") [3rd ed., pp. 173-211].
  • Script example from Barry Hampe's Web site. [Hampe is the author of Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos]:
  • Another example from Hampe's Web site, a shooting script for his film "Beyond Division: Reunifying the Republic of Cyprus.": Beyond Division: Reunifying the Republic of Cyprus.
  • Documentary Film Templates: Documentary Writing: Sript Templates.
  • Script for The Gate of Heavenly Peace: See also
  • Look at some of the scripts for any of the PBS films aired on The American Experience. Available on-line at:
  • Working script (2-column) for Brian D. Mauriello's documentary, Which Way EJ?: We'll use this in class, and compare it to the finished film. By the way, I was interviewed for this film.
  • "Crash Landing" - John Warren. Script sample. On electronic reserve.
  • "Transcription sample": On electronic reserve.
  • Tips for good creative writing. On electronic reserve.
  • Review Assignment: Write a 3-5 pp. analytical review of Errol Morris' Fog of War. Make sure your review includes an analysis of: point of view; composition, style, and form; quality of evidence and argument; sound and visual production aspects of the film (camera work, lighting, sound quality, etc.)--and especially focus on the interview aspects of the production. Be specific in your discussion, highlighting examples from the production to make your major points.. Select a segment of the film that represents either the best or worst aspects of the film and bring to class the time reference for that segment.

    No Class (Tuesday, Feb. 21): Vacation

    Class 5 (Tuesday, Feb. 28): The Range of Documentary Work, III (World War II)

    History and Theory: War, propaganda, and documentaries
    Film Analysis: Discussion of WWII films, and post-War productions on the WWII era.
    Production Skills: Camera work: mounting, operation, and shot composition

    Group Projects: Continue research and begin developing rough script..

    FILMS: See Film & History guide to war documentaries at:; Baptism of Fire [Feuertaufe] (Hans Bertram, 1940); Campaign in Poland [Feldzug in Polen] (Frtiz Hippler, 1940); The Eternal Jew [Der Ewige Jude] (Fritz Hippler, 1940); London Can Take It (Humphrey Jennings and Harry Watt, 1940); Listen to Britain (Humphrey Jennings, 1942); Fires Were Started (Humphrey Jennings, 1943); Berlin (Yuli Raizman, 1945); Day of Way [Den Voiny] (Mikhail Slutsky, 1942); Why We Fight series (Frank Capra, 1942-1945); The Negro Soldier (1944); Night and Fog [Nuit et brouillard] (Alan Resnais, 1955); Memory of the Camps (Frontline, 1989); Partisans of Vilna (Nancy D. Kates, Bennett Singer, 1985); Shoa (Claude Lanzmann, 1985); The Eye of the Third Reich (Jurgen Stumphaus, 1992); Paragraph 175 (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2000).

    Required Readings:

  • Michael Rabiger, Directing the Documentary, 4th ed., pp. 58-78 ("Evidence and Point of View in Documentary" and "Time, Development, and Structure"); 143-159 ("Screen Grammar"); 287-301 ("Camera Equipment and Shooting Procedure") [3rd ed., pp. 143-163; 188-206].
  • Bill Nichols, Representing the Real, pp. 32-75.
  • Erik Barnouw, Documentary: A History of the Non-fiction Film, pp. 139-228.
  • Release forms: 1) Interview (on electronic reserve.) 2) Location (on electronic reserve.)
  • Recommended Readings:

  • Michael Rabiger, Directing the Documentary, 4th ed., pp. 160-186 ("Projects: Screencraft Analysis").
  • Canon XL1 videocamera manual (on electronic reserve.)
  • SONY DCR-TRV7 videocamera manual (on electronic reserve.)
  • "Acting with a Pencil: Storyboarding your Movie," (from
  • Storyboard template:
  • Guide to film script terminology:
  • Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography (Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy,
    1993). Excellent film on the history and craft of cinematography.
  • Assignments:

    (1) Take a 2-3 minute segment of any historical documentary and "deconstruct" it into a two-column script, with visual elements described in detail on one column ("in detail" means describing camera angles and movements, as in "pan from left to right on a group black-and-white photograph of . . . ") and the parallel audio descibed -- also in detail -- in the other column. You may use any of the historical documentaries in the film lists on this syllabus (note that NOT ALL OF THEM are historical documentaries. Some are there to illustrate modes and techniques).

    (2) Each member of the production team will conduct a pre-interview -- an informal interview which provides you with basic background information about your informant/expert/subject and allows you to explore what he/she might have to offer to your project. A pre-interview helps you finely hone your questions for the formal on-camera session. The pre-interview need not be taped, although we do have audio recording kits you can check out, some light-weight digital SONY camcorders, and an excellent phone-taping station in the History MultiMedia Lab in Ten Broeck. You should type up your pre-interview notes and submit them. Please also share them with your fellow production team members.

    Class 6 (Tuesday, Mar. 7): The Range of (Recent) Documentary Work, IV: 1950s-present

    History and Theory: 1) Documentaries, mockumentaries, docudramas, and ideology ~ objectivity, subjectivity, and irony in recent documentary work 2) developing compelling documentary narrative and story structures
    Film Analysis: The boundaries of documentary work; examples from various productions.
    Production Skills: Field audio recording, introduction to sound design and voice overs.

    Group Projects: Rough script/script outline should be completed by this date.

    FILMS: See It Now documentary series (Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly, 1953); Harvest of Shame (David Lowe; narrated by Edward R. Murrow, 1960); The Titicut Follies (Frederick Wiseman, 1967); High School (Frederick Wiseman, 1968); Law and Order (Frederick Wiseman, 1969); Hospital (Frederick Wiseman, 1970); Basic Training (Frederick Wiseman, 1971); America [series] (Michael Gill, 1972); The Atomic Cafe (The Archives Project/Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, Pierce Rafferty, 1982); Zelig (Woody Allen, 1983); Niagara Falls (Larry Hott and Diane Garey, 1985); The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988); Baseball (Ken Burns, 1993); Mao: The Real Man [mockumentary] (Szilveszter Siklosi, 1995); The Civil War (Ken Burns); A Midwife's Tale [A docudrama adaptation of Laurel Ulrich's prize-winning book, A Midwife's Tale] (Laurie Kahn-Leavitt, 1996); Raoul Wallenberg: Buried Alive (David Harel, 1984); The Killing Floor [a docudrama about labor, interracial strife, and union organizing in the Chicago stockyards during and after WWI] (Bill Duke, 1985); Salt of the Earth (Herbert J. Bieberman, 1954); Roger and Me (Michael Moore, 1989); Thirteen Days [Cuban Missle Crisis docudrama] (Roger Donaldson, 2000); History Lessons (Barbara Hammer, 2000); La Commune (Peter Watkins, 2000); Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002); Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore, 2003); Farenhype 9/11 (Alan Peterson, 2004); This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984); A Mighty Wind (Christopher Guest, 2003); George Orwell: A Life in Pictures (Chris Durlacher, 2003); The Yes Men ( Dan Ollman, Sarah Price, Chris Smith; 2003); Born into Brothels (Zana Briski, 2004); Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2004);

    Required Readings:
  • Michael Rabiger, Directing the Documentary, 4th ed., pp. 79-105 ("Time, Development, and Structure"; "Authorship Challenges and Opportunities"; "Re-enactment, Reconstruction, and Docudrama"); 187-201 ("Projects: Basic Production"); 313-323 ("Location Sound);" 443-454 ("Narration"); also look over pp. 421-427 ("The Paper Edit: Designing a Structure"), we'll come back to this later in more detail.
    [3rd ed., pp. 207-234 ("Projects: Basic Production"); 249-254 ("The Paper Edit: Designing a Structure"), we'll come back to this later in more detail.; 276-287 ("Narration"); 315-366]
  • Bill Nichols, Representing the Real, pp. 107-198.
  • Michael Moore, "Factual Back-Up For Fahrenheit 9/11":
  • Erik Barnouw, Documentary: A History of the Non-fiction Film, pp. 231-349.
  • Recommended Readings:

    Class 7 (Tuesday, Mar. 14): Light Magic / Legal and Ethical Issues

    History and Theory: Legal, ethical, and ideological issues in documentary production
    Film Analysis: Documenting the history of mainstream and radical politics, and foreign affairs
    Production Skills: Lighting - indoor and outdoor; basic 3-point lighting.

    Group Projects: Identifying and collecting B-roll material.

    FILMS: Letters from Vietnam (Drew Associates, 1965); The Anderson Platoon (Pierre Schoendorffer, 1969); Hearts and Minds (Peter Davis, 1974); Vietnam: A Television History (1983) []; Seeing Red: Stories of American Communists (Jim Klein, Julia Reichert, 1983); Nicaragua: Report from the Front (Deborah Shaffer, Ana Maria Garcia, Glen Silber, 1984); Berkeley in the '60s (Mark Kitchell, 1990); Coverup: Behind the Iran Contra Affair (Barbara Trent, 1988); Destination Nicaragua (Barbara Trent, 1986); Radio Bikini (Robert Stone, 1987); The Panama Deception (Barbara Trent, 1992);The War Room (Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker, 1993); The Gate of Heavenly Peace (1995); Father Roy: Inside the School of the Assassins (Robert Richter, 1997); Beyond Barbed Wire (Steve Rosen, 2001); Haifawi (Sahera Dirbas and Darwish Abu Rish, 1999); Rebels with a Cause (Helen Garvey, 2000); The Weather Underground (Sam Green and Bill Siegel, 2003); Heir to An Execution (Ivy Meeropol, 2005); When the Mountains Tremble: The Story of Rigoberta Menchu (Pamela Yates, Newton Thomas Sigel, 1983; 2004).

    Required Readings & Viewings:

    • Michael Rabiger, Directing the Documentary, 4th ed., pp.302-312 ("Lighting"); [3rd ed., pp. 113-152; 164-168].
    • Bill Nichols, Representing the Real, pp. 76-103.
    • Watch either: 1) Hearts and Minds or 2) any segment of Vietnam: A Television History.

    Recommended Readings:

    Class 8 (Tuesday, Mar. 21): Post-Production ~ Non-Linear Editing I / "Making Stills Come Alive:" Working with Still Images.

    History and Theory: Editing styles and visual grammar; voice and authorship; theory and practice of visual editing.
    Film Analysis: Documenting Cultural History ("high" culture and "pop" culture)
    Production Skills: Introduction to Non-linear editing.

    Group Projects: Workin on B-Roll.

    FILMS: Don't Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967); Civilisation: A Personal View (hosted by Kenneth Clark, 1969); The Life of Leonardo Da Vinci (Renato Castalani, 1972); Edgar Degas: The Unquiet Spirit (1980); The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time (Jim Brown, Lee Hays, George Stoney1982); A Crime to Fit the Punishment [on the making of the blacklisted film, Salt of the Earth] (Barbara Moss & Stephen Mack, 1982); Norman Rockwell: An American Portrait (Mary Rawson, 1987; 1993); Thomas Hart Benton (Ken Burns, 1988);Art of the Western World: From Ancient Greece to Post-Modernism (hosted by Michael Wood, 1989); Monet: Legacy of Light (1989);American Visions: The History of American Art and Architecture (Robert Hughes, 1996); The Impressionists: The Other French Revolution (Bruce Alfred, 2000); Rockwell Kent: An American Life (Frederick Lewis, 2005); Jazz (Ken Burns, 2001).

    Required Readings:

  • Selections from the Vegas 6.0 Manual (pp. 47-74 and 97-121). PDF available at NOTE: There is only one Vegas 6.0 manual; it specifies which commands are and are not available in the more basic version of the program, Vegas Movie Studio 6.0. All assignment pagination refer to the on-line PDF manual.
  • Michael Rabiger, Directing the Documentary, 4th ed., 407-442 ("Postproduction Begins;" "The Paper Edit: Designing a Structure;" Editing: The First Assembly;" "Editing: The Process of Refinement"). [3rd edition: pp. 241-275].
  • Tape Logging (see "Tape Logging" on electronic reserve.)
  • Recommended Readings:

  • Film editing glossary:
  • Film and Editing terms:
  • The Art of Film Edition (from p.o.v. Aarhus University, Denmark):
  • The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing (Wendy Apple, 2004). Superb film about the history and craft of film editing. A must see!!
  • If you want to use Adobe Premiere to edit, check out:
  • Assignment: All class members responsible for signing out one of the cameras -- or using their own -- and collecting B-roll footage relevant to your production team's project. Bring your footage in to share with the class and with your production group.

    Class 9 (Tuesday, Mar. 28): Editing II

    History and Theory: Developing the visual edit.
    Film Analysis: Documenting: 1) Environmental History 2) Public Policy History 3) Local and Regional History
    Production Skills: Non-linear editing, continued; Still movement; assembly editing (or "string-out"); sample reels.

    Group/Individual Projects: B-roll due. Interviews should be set up by now and you should be starting to collect them. Log all tapes!!

    FILMS: No Place to Hide (Tom Johnson and Lance Bird, 1982); Half Life (Dennis O'Rourke, 1986); Radio Bikini (Robert Stone, 1988); The Wilderness Idea (Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey, 1991); Wild by Law (Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey, 1991); Mike Camoin, Inside the Blue Line: Leadley's Legacy (1997); From Danger to Dignity: The Fight for Safe Abortion (Dorothy Fadiman, Beth Seltzer, Danier Meyers, 1995); Chernobyl Heart (Maryann DeLeo, 2003); Meltdown at Three Mile Island (Margaret Drain, Chana Gazit, David Steward, 1999);

    Required Readings:

    Class 10 (Tuesday, Apr. 4): Guest Speaker: Larry Hott (Florentine Films)

    Group Projects: String out/first assembly due around this time. Primary interview should be completed. Secondary interviews should be set up and taking place.

    FILMS: Blue Vinyl (Daniel B. Gold, Judith Helfand; 2002); History Through Deaf Eyes (Larry Hott and Diane Garey, in production); Audubon: Drawn from Nature (Larry Hott and Diane Garey, in production). Both films will be the subject of Hott's presentation. More information on the two films may be found at the Hott Productions Web site:

    Required Readings:

  • Michael Rabiger, 4th ed., Directing the Documentary, 462-469 ("Using Music and Working with a Composer"); additional readings to be announced.
  • Read Louis Menand, "Nanook and Me" [on electronic reserve].
  • Looking for sound tracks? Check out the Open Sound Exchange at
  • (Tuesday, April 11): NO CLASS

    Class 11 (Tuesday, Apr. 18): Documentary Shorts: Structure and Function in Cinematic Composition

    History and Theory: Experimenting with temporal and structural elements in visual storytelling.
    Film Analysis: Documenting the history of science, technology, and medicine.
    Production Skills: From rough cut to fine cut.

    Group Projects: Rough cut due.

    FILMS: The Day After Trinity (John Else, 1980); Edison's Miracle of Light (Matthew Collins and John Walter, 1995); Hoover Dam (Stephen Stept, 1999); The Iron Road (Neil Goodwin, 1990); The Pill (Chana Gazit, 2003); The Wizard of Photography (James A. DeVinney, 2000); Tuberculosis in America (Diane Garey and Larry Hott, 1995); Sentimental Women Need Not Apply: A History of the American Nurse (Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey, 1988); Secret People: The Naked Face of Leprosy in America (John Anderson & Laura Harrison, 1999); Dear Dr. Spencer (Danielle Renfrew and Beth Seltzer, 1998); The Harriman Alaska Expedition Retraced (Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey, 2002);

    Required Readings:
  • Michael Rabiger, Directing the Documentary, 455-461 ("Editing: The End Game"); 470-486 ("Editing: From Fine Cut to Sound Mix" and "Titles and Acknowledgments"). [3rd edition: 288-302].
  • Selections from Vegas 6.0 (pp. 223-229; 267-286).
  • Assignment (Optional/Extra Credit):

    There are two mini-DV tapes with some short archival clips that came from the National Archives II, College Park, Maryland. Your assignment is to compose a short, highly focused documentary (3-5 minutes) utilizing one or more of these clips. You will obviously need to add other elements to make these archival clips into documentaries: additional visual elements, sounds, narration, music, etc. We will discuss your compositions in class. Be prepared to talk about why you chose to construct the documentary in the way you did--which visual and sound elements you were drawn to, what essential points you were trying to communicate, what sort of compromises between aesthetics and authenticity you were forced to make, and so on.

    Class 12 (Tuesday, April 25): Advanced Postproduction Work

    History and Theory: The History of labor documentaries
    Film Analysis: Documenting Labor, Business, and Economic History
    Production Skills: Troubleshooting technical problems of production teams;

    Group Projects: Groups should be working on fine cut.

    FILMS: The Uprising of '34 (Judith Helfand and George Stoney, 1995); Union Maids (Jim Klein, Miles Mogulescu, Julia Reichert, 1976); The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (Connie Field, 1980); Daughters of Free Men (American Social History Project, ); Tea Party Etiquette (American Social History Project); Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl (American Social History Project); Company Town [Schenectady] (WMHT), The Great Sit Down, The Homefront, The Wobblies, Brass Valley, 1877: The Grand Army of Starvation (American Social History Project); The River Ran Red, , The Global Assembly Line, Controlling Interest, With Babies and Banners, , Harlan County, USA, Clockwork, Bullet Bargaining at Ludlow, The Great Sitdown, Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle, The Women of Summer, Business of America, Minimum Wages: The New Economy, The Great Depression, Out of the Depths: The Miners' Story, Our Land Too!: The STFU, Roger and Me, Cesar Chaves and the Farmworkers' Movement; Clara Lemlich: A Strike Leader's Diary (Alex Szalat, 2004).

    Required Readings:

  • Selections fromVegas 6.0 and/or Final Cut manual (to be announced in class).

  • Recommended Readings and WWW Resources:
  • Labor documentaries:
  • Tom Zaniello. Working Stiffs, Union Maids, Reds, and Riffraff: An Expanded Guide to Films About Labor. By Ithaca, NY, ILR Press, 2003.
  • "George Stoney, Documentary Filmmaking, and the Uprising of '34." Interview with George Stoney, by Gerald Zahavi, September 23, 2004. Part 1: Real Media. MP3. Time: 30:04; Part 2: Real Media. MP3. Time: 18:40. Originally aired on Talking History. The interview focuses on Stoney's various projects, including field work under Howard University's Ralph Bunch for Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, and collaborations on over 50 films, including the historical documentary, "The Uprising of '34." Stoney has taught filmmaking at NYU for more than three decades.
  • Class 13 (Tuesday, May 2): The Economics of Documentary Production / Distributing and Showing Your Documentaries

    History and Theory: Women's history and gender history on film; introduction to feminist documentary theory and practice
    Film Analysis:
    Documenting racial, ethnic, and gender history
    Production Skills: Troubleshooting technical problems of production teams; DVD authoring.

    Group Projects: Fine cut due.

    FILMS: When Abortion Was Illegal (Dorothy Fadiman and Daniel Meyers, 1992); The Times of Harvey Milk (Robert Epstein and Richard Schmeichen, 1984); Ethnic Notions (Marlon Riggs, 1986); Before Stonewall (John Scagliotti, Greta Schiller, Robert Rosenberg, 1984); Eyes on the Prize series (Henry Hampton, 1990); Slavery and the Making of America (Chana Gazit, 2005); Five Points (American Social History Project); Up South (American Social History Project); The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow (Richard Wormser, 2002); The Long Way Home (Mark Jonathan, 1997); Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (Ken Burns, 1999); After Stonewall (John Scagliotti, 1999); Chicano!: The History of the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement (NLCC Educational Media, 1996); In the White Man’s Image (Christine Lesiak , 1991); Who Killed Vincent Chin? (Christine Choy Renee Tajima-Pena, 1987); Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story (Eric Paul Fournier, 2000; Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice (American Experience, PBS Video); Out of Obscurity: The Story of the 1939 Alexandria Library Sit-In (2000); Two Towns of Jasper (Whitney Dow, Marco Williams, 2002 / POV Series, PBS); The Murder of Emmett Till (Stanley Nelson, 2003 / American Experience, PBS); Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin (Nancy D. Kates and Bennett Singer, 2003 / POV Series, PBS); Four Little Girls (Spike Lee, 1997); The Life and Times of Sara Baartman "The Hottentot Venus" (Zola Maseko, 1998); Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker (Richard Schmiechen, 1991).


  • Michael Rabiger, 4th ed., Directing the Documentary, 528-535 [3rd ed., 381-387]
  • WWW Links:

  • Women Make Movies
  • The History Channel
  • IFC (Independent Film Channel).
  • Film Festivals:
  • Recommended Readings:

  • Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies Documentaries: see
  • Janet Walker and Diane Waldeman. Feminism and Documentary. University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
  • Class 14 (Tuesday, May 9): Picture lock due. Project Screeenings

    I'll be in my office all day to receive your final projects.

    ~ End ~

    Readings and Practicum in Historical Film and Video Documentary Production ~ Course Syllabus
    Copyright © 2006 by Prof. Gerald Zahavi

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    Updated 3-28-2006