SOCIAL DOCUMENTARY  SPRING 2016    

PROFESSOR LARRY KIRKMAN  

Introduction

In this course, you will study approaches to documentary as a tool for public knowledge and action. You will learn about audience engagement strategies and impact research.  You will analyze documentaries on major social issues, problems and solutions, and their strategic communication campaigns and online presence.

Whatever your goal – public awareness, government and corporate policies, behavior change, community voice, cultural identity, education, or movement building, you will learn what it means to become both a creative storyteller and an impact producer.

You will see that the syllabus includes some separate assignments, noted in bold, for graduate students enrolled in COMM-612 and undergraduate students enrolled in COMM-412. This course is a requirement for the MFA in Film and Electronic Media’s Concentration in Political, Cultural and Social Impact.  The majority of the students in the class are in film and media arts; others are in public relations/strategic communication and international media.  We will all get smarter together.

In the first half of the semester, we will analyze films in two issue areas, health and water, to give us a common frame of reference.  You will bring to class your notes on the themes, characters, production elements, and roles of the filmmaker(s.)  You will write summary papers on the two sets of films.

And, you will study, discuss and summarize readings on impact strategies, formative research and impact assessment, including case studies of successful productions and campaigns, strategic frameworks for designing documentary projects, evaluation methodologies, and reports on the media environment for social documentary.

In the second half of the semester, we will focus on additional issues and explore new forms of immersive and participatory documentary, including interactive and virtual reality productions.  You will write a fourth summary paper on interactive documentary.

Key texts for all students:

  • The Fledgling Fund Papers, Diagrams, and Case Studies at http://www.thefledglingfund.org/impact-resources/
  • Britdoc’s The Impact Field Guide and Toolkit. Download the PDF to your device and/or print at http://impactguide.org/
  • Download key tools from the Impact Field Guide and Toolkit: the “Strategic Plan Worksheet” and “Impact Evaluation Template.”
  • Center for Media and Social Impact resources at cmsimpact.org, including: “Designing for Impact” by Jessica Clark and Barbara Abrash (2011) and “Assessing the Social Impact of Issues-Focused Documentaries” by Caty Chattoo (2015)
  • Additional readings posted on Blackboard under “Content & Assignments,” including my “Strategic Media Making and Impact Producing” (2015) and “Social Documentary Project Proposal Outline.”

Piazza for discussions and sharing your work

This class will use the online platform Piazza for posts and discussions based on my prompts and as a forum for you to read and comment on each other’s work in progress.

Reports in class as assigned, about 30 minutes, including clips.

Share your power point presentations with notes on Blackboard.

Undergraduate students: As assigned, in teams, you will make a presentation on a documentary and its impact, reviewing a case study and presenting illustrative clips from the film.

Graduate Students: As assigned, in teams, you will research documentary production/impact organizations and report back to the class on their history, goals and resources, and analyze and present clips from a documentary film project that illustrates their work. Organizations may include: Active Voice Lab, Kartemquin Films, Independent Television Service (ITVS), Participant Media, and Working Films

The big assignment: proposal or paper

Undergraduate student paper:  Each of you will produce a 10-15 page landscape paper: a map of social documentaries on an issue, incorporating case studies and impact reports.  You should (with my help) try to connect with the filmmakers and engagement strategists.   You can select your topic, pending my approval, from a wide range of issues, for example: education, poverty, inequality, refugees, immigration, obesity, sanitation, cultural preservation, or climate change.  Your paper will conclude with your answer to the question: what is the next film that needs to be made on your issue/cause and why?

Graduate student proposal: Each of you will create a treatment and strategy for a social, political or cultural documentary project based on the “project proposal outline,” posted on Blackboard.  You will choose the subject, purpose, and form of the documentary you propose. It could be for a long-form feature film or television special, or a short-form public education, information or advocacy campaign video, or a new-form interactive multimedia production. Your proposal will tap into nonprofit/public interest/advocacy, media, and government organizations working in your issue areas, as sources of information, partners and/or clients. Your proposal will include comprehensive outreach and engagement, distribution, and evaluation plans. And, it will reference the social documentary landscape for your issue, cause or partner/client to complement the proposal.

All topics/issues must build on case studies of related social documentaries and their campaigns. Work with me to connect with filmmakers and strategists who have taken on your issue.  The proposals should be no more than 20 pages.

Both proposals and papers will tap into sources covered in the syllabus:

Both graduate project proposals and undergraduate landscape papers will use the resources studied in this course, including, The Fledgling Fund, The Impact Field Guide & Toolkit, Center for Media and Social Impact, Independent Television Service (ITVS), Active Voice Lab, Participant Media, and Working Films.

You will develop your project proposals and landscape papers in stages.  You will submit a pitch for my approval, and an outline, draft and final versions to Blackboard for grading and my comments, and share your work at each stage on Piazza for class feedback and discussion.

Each of you will meet with me during my office hours or by appointment before February 11 to discuss your project proposal or paper ideas.

Our shared commitment to the course

This course reflects my career and my interest in the power of public purpose media, “media that matters,” telling stories and framing issues to engage, inform, and equip audiences for civic participation and social action.

I expect you to be active participants in the classroom and on our discussion forums, to share responsibility for the conduct of the course, and to take some risks in the process of learning. Teamwork and collaboration are central to this course. You will work in teams on some assignments and respond to the work of other students.

Get connected to the field

Join, read and contribute to our class Facebook page.

Follow documentary Twitter feeds. See my list on Blackboard under “Information.”

Consider the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival Fellows Program: http://www.fullframefest.org/about/fellows-program/.

If you are new to documentary film, you can catch up:

  • Read Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction by Patricia Aufderheide, Oxford University Press (about $10)
  • Watch Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment by Peter Wintonick (2000) in AU Library Media Services DVD 10180, or see clips on Blackboard under “Streaming Video Clips”
  • Watch To Tell the Truth: Working for Change by Cal Skaggs (2012) (56 minutes) Free video streaming from AU Library, link from Blackboard under “Course Reserves” or watch DVD 4036 in the AU Library

Class schedule

Session 1, January 14

READ FOR TODAY

  • “Strategic Media Making and Impact Producing” by Larry Kirkman in Blackboard under “Content & Assignments”

VIEW FOR TODAY:

IN CLASS TODAY:

  • Overview of syllabus, class norms and expectations. Introductions and interests.

VIEW IN CLASS:

  • Henry Horner Mothers Guild by The Chicago Video Project, 1991, and Meet Mr. Toilet by Jessica Yu, 2012

Session 2, January 21

VIEW FOR TODAY

READ FOR TODAY

Session 3, January 28

VIEW FOR TODAY

  • The Waiting Room by Peter Nicks, 81 min, 2012. Watch streaming from AU Library – link from Blackboard “Course Reserves” or watch DVD 4512 in Library

READ FOR TODAY

Assignment:

  • Highlight on Piazza one key resource for your own work from “The Distribution Bulletin”
  • Read one of the case studies in “Top Five Digital Strategies” and write 3-5 sentences about it on Piazza in the context of the recommendations
  • Reminder: Summary paper #1 on The Fledgling Fund and Center for Media and Social Impact due to Blackboard by Feb. 3rd.

Session 4, February 4

VIEW FOR TODAY:

  • Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare by Susan Froemke and Matthew Heineman, 95 min, 2012. Free video streaming from AU Library – link from Blackboard “Course Reserves” or watch DVD 4312 in AU Library

Assignment:

  • Bring notes on key themes, characters, and production elements/techniques to class
  • Reminder: Summary paper #2 on Health Care: Your Money or Your Life, The Waiting Room and Escape Fire due to Blackboard by Feb. 10th.

READ FOR TODAY

Session 5, February 11

VIEW FOR TODAY:

IN CLASS TODAY:

  • Rick Young, IRW/Frontline writer, producer, director to discuss his film The Trouble with Chicken

READ FOR TODAY

Assignment:

  • Post a brief summary of the research results on your issue on Piazza

Session 6, February 18

 VIEW FOR TODAY

  • Last Call at the Oasis by Jessica Yu, 105 minutes, 2011
  • Watch streaming from AU Library – link from Blackboard “Course Reserves” or watch DVD 10773 in AU Library

READ FOR TODAY

Assignments:

  • Post your response to “Language of Conservation” on Piazza, 3-5 sentences
  • Reminder: Submit to Piazza a brief description of your project or paper by February 24th and prepare to pitch in class on the 25th

Session 7, February 25

VIEW FOR TODAY

  • GasLand by Josh Fox, 107 min, 2010
  • View DVD 7968 in Library or on Netflix

READ FOR TODAY

Assignment:

  • Post main takeaways from “Social Issue Documentary” on Piazza, 3-5 sentences
  • Reminder: Summary paper #3 on LAST CALL AT THE OASIS, GASLAND, and the Nature Conservancy’s “Language of Conservation” due to Blackboard by March 2nd.

Session 8, March 3

VIEW FOR TODAY

READ FOR TODAY

Assignment:

  • Write Piazza post, 3-5 sentences on your takeaways from “Interactive Documentary: A Transformative Art Form” by Tom Perlmutter
  • Reminder: Outline of your project proposal or paper, including resources and references due on March 16th.

Session 9, March 17 

VIEW FOR TODAY

  • Clouds Over Sidra by Gabo Arora and Barry Pousman, 2015 http://vrse.com/watch/id/2
  • Life on Hold by Reem Haddad and Dima Shaibani, 2015 – http://lifeonhold.aljazeera.com/

Assignment:

  • Bring notes to class.

READ FOR TODAY:

  • Impact Field Guide and Toolkit: http://impactguide.org/
    • Introduction: 3 Analyzing the Story Environment; 1.4 How Change Happens
    • Planning:2 Defining Your Vision; 2.3 Developing Your Strategy; 2.5 The 4 Impacts; and,
    • 6 Draft (download the “Strategic Plan Worksheet”)
  • Mapping the Intersection of Two Cultures – http://opendoclab.mit.edu/interactivejournalism/

IN CLASS TODAY

  • Undergraduate presentation: Girl Rising
  • Graduate presentation: Working Films, Blue Vinyl

Session 10, March 24

VIEW FOR TODAY  

READ FOR TODAY

  • Impact Field Guide and Toolkit: http://impactguide.org/
    • Impact in Action:2 The Role of Film Teams; 3.3 Meet the Impact Producer; 3.4 Consider Your Subjects; and, Making Impact Partners

IN CLASS TODAY

  • Graduate presentation: Participant Media, A Place at the Table
  • We will attend the Environmental Film Festival panel on impact with Josh Fox, Wendy Ettinger, and Caty Chattoo

Session 11, March 31

VIEW FOR TODAY

READ FOR TODAY

  • Impact Field Guide and Toolkit: http://impactguide.org/
    • Impact Distribution: 4.1 What is Impact Distribution; 4.4 Review Distribution Pathways;
    • Classic Engagement Activity; 4.6 Impact Distribution at Work
  • Active Voice Lab: “Horticulture” – http://www.activevoice.net/avlab/tools/horticulture/

Assignment:

  • Post on Piazza, 3-5 sentences on how the “Horticulture” framework applies to one of the health or water films
  • Reminder: Summary paper #4 on Interactive Documentary due to Blackboard by April 6th.

IN CLASS TODAY

  • Graduate Presentation: Active Voice Lab, Farmingville and Welcome to Shelbyville
  • Undergraduate Presentations: Bully and American Promise

Session 12, April 7

VIEW FOR TODAY 

READ FOR TODAY

IN CLASS TODAY

  • Graduate Presentation: Kartemquin Films, The Interrupters
  • Undergraduate Presentations: The House I Live In and Blackfish

Session 13, April 14

READ FOR TODAY

  • Impact Field Guide and Toolkit: http://impactguide.org/
    • Evaluation: 1 We Love Evaluation; 5.2 What Makes Great Evaluation; 5.3 Embracing
    • Complexity; 5.4 Making Your Evaluation Plan (download the “Impact Evaluation Template); and, 5 Evaluation Toolbox

Assignment:

  • Reminder: Final draft proposal or paper due to Blackboard and shared on Piazza by April 20th.

IN CLASS TODAY

  • Graduate Presentation: ITVS, Women and Girls Lead, Half the Sky, A Path Appears
  • Undergraduate Presentation: Invisible War

Session 14, April 21

DUE APRIL 20: FINAL DRAFT OF PROPOSAL OR PAPER TO BLACKBOARD SHARE ON PIAZZA AND DISCUSS IN CLASS

Session 15, April 28

DUE APRIL 27: FINAL PROPOSAL OR PAPER TO BLACKBOARD

DISCUSSION OF FINAL PROJECTS AND PAPERS IN CLASS