Sarah O'Brien
ENGL 1102-H4
Spring 2017

This section of ENGL 1102 develops multimodal communication skills through the critical and creative analysis of a heterogeneous collection of documentary and not-quite documentary films: popular nature and wildlife films, ethnographic films, historical documentaries, essay films, mockumentaries or pseudo- documentaries, and interactive documentaries or i-Docs. Documentary film is commonly understood as a mode that both educates audiences about important historical events and makes arguments about current events and issues. As our selective tour of the preceding documentary traditions will show, documentaries serve these two functions and so many more. This course will focus on the ways in which documentaries represent—and, indeed, produce—differences among humans and between humans and nonhuman animals, and how these representational strategies affirm, neutralize, or challenge dominant nonfiction narratives about the imbalances of power within these groups. How do these films’ attention to issues of identify and difference—specifically in the forms of species, race, and gender—inform their larger projects of educating and convincing audiences about sites of social and environmental tension, inequity, and conflict? Is it possible to leverage documentary—a form deeply bound up with the epistemological pursuit of categorizing and maintaining boundaries—for the purpose of provoking political awareness of and action aimed at current systems of social and environmental injustices? Adopting a comparative lens, we will explore these questions through weekly viewings and short writing assignments, as well as three larger multimodal projects: a contributing essay to Zooscope: the Animals in Film Archive; a digitally annotated analytical essay on a selected documentary; and a guided audio tour for visitors to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. This last project will entail learning about the important role of documentary film and photography in the Civil Rights movement, and forging connections between it and documentary practices related to current movements for social and environmental justice in the US.

Course Type
Partner Engagement