Documentary Assignment

Multimedia Documentary Assignment – ENGL3084

Compose a documentary (utilizing text, images, voice, and video) on a campus and/or community figure, organization, movement, social phenomenon, event, or issue. Use multiple perspectives and primary and secondary research to reveal tension that exists within your subject of inquiry. You may choose to collaboratively compose the documentary with one of your classmates.

You should expect to distribute your final draft of your documentary to all of the interviewees involved in your project and to post it online for public viewing. Students will screen their final films for the class during the final week.


The documentary project will give you another opportunity to use (carefully and critically) more than one medium to express and communicate your ideas. It will also give you a chance to explore the ethics of writing and representing people and events in informed, responsible ways.  The purpose is not to “cover” a subject but to build a connection between you, the subject, and the audience, to offer an inspiring take.

Documentary is another form of storytelling that has characters, scenes, conflicts, dialog, etc. which interact to form the story’s arc.  We’ll be applying creative storytelling techniques to successfully develop a narrative arc for your documentaries that builds context and tension and gains audience interest.


For the first stage (the invention stage), we will look at examples of documentary writing and film and do some preliminary writing in order to choose and narrow our subjects. Each student should select a line of inquiry for the documentary that relates to his/her blog theme. E.g. If your blog is about back country snowboarding, your documentary should relate to that subject. Your final documentaries will be posted to your blog at the end of the semester.

The project should begin with a set of questions you hope to answer or understand with more depth. E.g. Why do snowboarders chose to ride in the back country? What are the ages and ability levels of most back country riders? What does back country offer that resorts don’t? Is fear and danger part of the draw? Or is it something else?

Enter the research process with an open mind and a tolerance for ambiguity. Don’t attempt to control your findings; instead, let the project lead you to the most interesting discoveries.

The documentary project will involve library (e.g., archival, historical, social, cultural) and/or field (interviews, observations, videotaping, photographing, etc.) research.

You will employ whatever research methods offer you an in-depth, humanitarian view of your subject.  Your access to the subject will also determine the research methods you employ. (Be sure you pick a subject that offers you plenty of accessible information.)

In shaping the multimedia documentary you will add information in two directions—social, cultural, or historical AND individual or idiosyncratic. In other words, you will present a close particular portrait of the subject while at the same time contextualizing it within a larger historical, social, or cultural framework.

In composing the documentary, you will select details that clarify your subject for your chosen audience. Your selection of detail will also depend upon your particular purpose. Again, your language will aim toward building that connection between the audience and the subject.

Length Requirements

The documentary should be edited to around 5-7 minutes. You will collect much more material than this, but your job is to make the video powerful and short with a clearly planned storyline and arc. Every second of your film needs to count. Short videos appeal to our Internet audience. It’s extremely unlikely that someone who comes across your blog online would take the time to watch a 15-20 minute documentary. By keeping in short and powerful, you increase your potential viewership.

Documentary Evaluation CriteriaHow well has the film addressed these criteria?

Students should complete a self-evaluation of the final film using these criteria.

  1. Document an issue, social phenomenon, profession, event, etc. in an informed and inspiring way. Demonstrate careful and ethical research on the subject.
  2. Present reliable and appropriate evidence and examples that contribute to “answering” the question or representing the subject. Implement primary (interviews, observations, surveys) and secondary research (books, journal articles, news broadcasts, and credible websites) with the goal of providing the audience with both social/historical and personal/idiosyncratic context on the subject.
  3. Use film length requirements of 5-7 minutes to define the scope of the documentary. If film exceeds this time limit, suggest ways that the author can continue to narrow the scope.
  4. Speak to the limitations or boundaries of the approach (e.g., this is what I can see from my point of view and experience). If necessary, explain what will not be discussed.
  5. Provide the audience with a sense of structure, tension and build up and a strong relationship among elements (photos, images, text) of the document without redundancy. Show careful use of design (transitions, music, photographs, white space, chunking, highlighting, and fonts for emphasis).
  6. Demonstrate understanding of copyright and fair use. Make note of any questionable use of copyrighted material.
  7. Demonstrate rhetorical savvy (meet expectations of audience and defined purpose through details included and excluded).
  8. Use sentence styles and word choices that are congruent with the subject, purpose, and audience.
  9. Demonstrate grammatical and syntactical proficiency, care, and professionalism.
  10. Include supporting documents: signed consent forms from all interviewees, MLA works cited page that includes media citations, and a self-evaluation.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s