Documentary for Social Change

Academic Program: 

Instructor: Kate Coyer, Jeremy Braverman

Credits: 4.0

Course description: Elective course; Media and Communication Specialization

workshop-style course in which students examine of the use of video in advocacy campaigns, culminating in the production of an advocacy documentary working in small groups.

Aided by the spread in low-cost, high-quality technologies, video and moving image media are becoming increasingly ubiquitous and multi-form, and are playing an ever-increasing role in advocacy strategies. It’s not easy to be heard in a sea of information and messages--this is why video documentary, when used wisely, can be an invaluable ally in advocacy work.

In the analytical component of this course, we will overview theories of social change, the role of civil society in policy-making, and the power of the visual for activists. We will explore different advocacy tactics and strategies, and look critically at a range of campaigns. Students will be encouraged to consider audience, outreach, and amplification, as well as the strategic use of social media, traditional press and community outlets. Finally, we will examine fundamental issues such as privacy, data protection and ethics in video documentary.

The practical component of the course provides students a grounding in the craft of video production and the creation of moving images, covering all phases of the video production process. Through learning these skills and understanding how moving images are created, in concert with analysis of existing campaigns and theories of social change, students learn to construct advocacy documentaries that communicate a message, move an audience, and ultimately effect change on a given issue.

Class sessions will combine lecture and discussion of relevant concepts, viewing and analysis of documentaries, technical instruction on equipment, hands-on exercises, and critique of projects and students’ films at each stage of completion. 

Learning outcomes: 

Upon course completion, students will be able to:

  • Analyze and evaluate key theories of social change, as related to advocacy documentary
  • Analyze and evaluate different advocacy tactics, strategies and campaigns
  • Articulate fundamental issues such as privacy, data protection and ethics in video documentary.
  • Identify and articulate key concepts related to the production of documentary films
  • Create a strategic advocacy campaign with clear objectives and project design, including a comprehensive plan for an advocacy documentary film, and execute that plan.
  • Apply a deliberate structure and style to a short video project.
  • Work with basic technical proficiency in a range of areas of video production including: operating a video camera and tripod, an audio recorder and microphone, and the Adobe Premiere editing system.
  • Apply aesthetic concepts of cinematography, editing, and sound design to support a deliberate concept and vision in a short documentary.
  • Effectively collaborate in a small group to create a short documentary film.
  • Refine a short documentary through a series of progressively more refined versions, to a finished work.
  • Offer constructive critique in a workshop setting of a documentary project, both as a work-in-progress, and a final version.