Film Language in Non-Fiction

Subject is not scheduled Not scheduled

Code Completion Credits Range Language Instruction Semester
311FLNF ZK 2 2T English winter

Subject guarantor

Name of lecturer(s)

Learning outcomes of the course unit

Students will be able to realize that to do a good documentary means to be constantly making decisions, answering a number of questions regarding not just the subject but also shooting style, editing, work with sound. An author should not only be able to improvise at the location but also work with footage in the same way we treat a fiction film. The esthetics and structure are the two main tools that turn a documentary on a specific subject into a good film transcending the genre.

Mode of study


Prerequisites and co-requisites


Course contents

When making documentaries people often think that a finding a hot subject is the most crucial thing - they are mistaking it for journalism. The truth is that it is a specific film language that gives the story life, a meaning that transcends the subject. The best documentaries are beautiful films with images that resonate in our minds for years. Sometimes a documentary film about a certain story is emotionally more intense than a fiction film about the same subject - as we will see.

1/ Theme - social issues vs. personal, observation vs participation, subjects: event, process, journey, historical, biographical, thesis, poetry...

2/ Interview - preparation, the pre-interview, casting, the choice of questions, leading the interview, multiple cameras, interrotron. Talking heads - emotion versus information

3/Voice over - work with actors and non actors, voice of God vs personal, description and juxtaposition

4/ Archives, fiction sequences, animation - information versus atmosphere, refrain and reenactment, portraying vs. representing, suggestions vs descriptions

5/Visual form - choice of style - dynamic versus static, improvisation versus choreography, expecting the unexpected, staging a situation and camera choices (preparation to use of jump cuts or cutaways)

6/Structure - the hook, opening, the order of questions/answers, chapters, tree acts documentary, the structure of sequences, text and subtext, work with multiple characters

7/Perspective - point of view, who is the audience, who is the narrator, the aim of the story. Editing as a point of starting all over again - a necessity.

8/Emotion - editing context (Kulešov effect), the secrets, atmospheric shots, finding the drama, dramatic points. Music and sfx - rhythm, emotion, images without narration

Examples of films that will be analyzed:

Francois Girard: 32 short films about Glen Gould

Nathaniel Kahn: My architect

Errol Morris: Wormwood, The Thin Blue Line, Vernon, Florida

Claude Landzmann: Shoah

Ken Burns: The Civil War, The Prohibition

Alain Resnais: Night and Fog

Chris Marker: Sans Solei

Werner Herzog: The Land of Silence and Darkness

Michael Moore: Bowling for Columbine

Morgan Spurlock: Supersize me

Tomáš Hejtmánek: Reportáž o cestě

Susan Musca: The Brandon Teena Story

Kimberly Pierce: Boys don't cry

Maysles brothers: Salesman, Grey Gardens

Godfrey Reggio: Koyaanisqatsi

Ross McElwee: Sherman's March

Ezra Edelman: O.J.: Made in America

The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story

Recommended or required reading

Rabiger, Michael. Directing: the documentary. 5th ed. New York: Focal Press, 2009. xii, 660 s. ISBN 978-0-240-81089-8.

Assessment methods and criteria

attendance (75%), active participation, successful completion of practical exercise


teacher: Bára Kopecká


Further information

No schedule has been prepared for this course

The subject is a part of the following study plans