Images of Emergency: The Politics of Documentary | RIC308

Instructor: Gregory Paschalidis

Course Description

In the past few decades documentary film has become the medium of choice for the public communication of every major issue that challenges global society: war and conflict, environmental deterioration and climate change, health and technology risks, immigration and fundamentalism, fiscal crisis and human rights, etc. Enjoying widespread distribution through a variety of both traditional and web-based outlets, and commanding powerful appeal across national and cross-national constituencies, documentary has made a major contribution to the emergence of the global public sphere and civil society. The course charts this development by combining consideration of technological and cultural changes with an investigation of the diverse narrative and rhetorical strategies employed by contemporary documentary filmmakers in their effort to define the emergency agenda of world public opinion.


Course Objectives 

  • Understand the core concepts and theories of documentary film genre
  • Understand the conventions, rhetorical devices and narrative design of documentary
  • Awarness of the manifold interactions between technology, civil society and documentary film-making/reception
  • Appreciation of the forms and functions of crisis/emergency related documentary in the contemporary global public sphere


Learning Outcomes 

  1. Define core concepts and theories of documentary film genre
  2. Explain documentary’s contribution to the emergence/functioning of global public sphere
  3. Identify narrative and rhetorical strategies of contemporary crisis/emergency related documentary
  4. Critically analyze contemporary crisis/emergency related documentaries


Class/Learning activities

Lectures, in-class presentations, independent study, written assignments.



Type of work Description Hours
Lectures Thirteen 3-hours lectures 39
Independent study Study of class materials and readings 50-60
Readings presentation Presenting & leading a discussion on a given topic 25-30
In-class presentation Conference type presentation of final paper 15-20
Final paper Critical analysis of a crisis/emergency related documentary (5.000 words) 110-120
Total workload 239-269



Type of assessment Learning outcome Impact on final grade Date of assessment
Participation in group discussion 1-3 10% On a regular basis
Reading presentation 1-2 20% On a regular basis
Presentation 1-4 10% 13th week
Written assignment (final paper) 2-4 60% 14th week


Required Reading

Baker, M. (2006). Documentary in the Digital Age. Oxford: Focal Press

Chanan, M.  (2007). The Politics of Documentary. London: BFI

Chapman, J. (2009). Issues in Contemporary Documentary. Oxford: Polity

Plantinga, C. (1997). Rhetoric and Representation in Nonfiction Film. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Zimmermann, P. (2000). States of Emergency. Documentaries, Wars, Democracies. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press


Suggested Reading

Bruzi, S. (2000). New Documentary. A critical introduction. London & New York: Routledge

Burnow, E. (1993). Documentary. A history of non-fiction film. Oxford University Press

Corner, J. (1996).The art of record. A critical introduction to documentary. Manchester Univ. Press

Ellis, J. (2005). A new history of documentary film. Continuum

Grant, B. K. & J. Sloniowski (eds.) (1998). Documenting the Documentary. Wayne State Univ Press

Holmlund, C. & C. Fuchs (1997). Between the sheets, in the streets: queer, lesbian, and gay       documentary. University of  Minnesota Press

Macdonald, K. & M. Cousins. Imagining Reality: The Faber Book of Documentary. Faber, 1996

Mamber, St. (1974) Cinema verite in America: studies in uncontrolled documentary. MIT

Nichols, B. (1991) Representing Reality. Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Indiana Univ. Press

Nichols, B. (2001). Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana  University Press

Renov, Michael (ed.) Theorising Documentary. Routledge, 1995

Winston, Brian. Lies, Damn Lies and Documentary. BFI, 2000


NOTE:  All of the above books can be found in the Aristotle University Library, and most of them are available in the collection of the School of Journalism & Mass Communications. There are many more documentary related resourses available in the Library and on the Web, and you are strongly advised to look for additional bibliographical aid, particularly in the category of journal articles (HEAL-link).


Resourses on the Internet




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