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Documentary Courses at Open City Docs School

Filmmaking, Film Theory and Radio Courses

Since February 2014, Open City Docs School has been running courses covering documentary filmmaking from all angles; from film theory lectures, practical camera training, film editing and workshops with award-winning documentarians. 

Below you will find courses that we are currently taking booking for the courses listed below. Previous courses are also listed below and we anticipate that many of these will be running again.

If you would like to register interest or book a place on our current courses please email

*Fees are non-refundable but credit can be transferred to another course.

Summer Film School

Monday 4th July - Friday 22nd July (Core Teaching)

Over the course of six weeks each student will aim to complete a short documentary film of 5 to 10 minutes. With the proliferation of cheap broadcast quality cameras, editing software and powerful computers, self-shooting directors are in increasing demand. As a trained self-shooter you are not only able to make your own films, but you are also employable as a freelance filmmaker. The course is suitable for beginners who have had no formal filmmaking training, however it would also be beneficial for those wishing to expand their skills into the self-shooting mode or those who wish to brush up on their filmmaking skills.

In the first three weeks we will focus on building the technical and analytical skills needed to complete a documentary film project.  Through a variety of a practical exercises you will learn to produce, direct, shoot and edit. These are the four core skills you need to master to become a successful self-shooting director.  In addition we will have an in depth look at the art of filmmaking and you’ll have the chance to learn from some of the best in the field through several guest lectures. 

After an intensive three weeks course, students will then have three weeks to complete their final project. During this period they will have access to the equipment and edit suites available at Open City Documentary Film School. There will be access to support in the forms on one-on-one tutorial during this period. On the last day there will be a final screening where students can share their work. 

Please note that you will be required to bring two external hard-drives with you on the course. 

Course costs: £1500

Deposit: £750


Course Tutor: Dieter Deswarte

Dieter Deswarte is a awarded Belgian documentary filmmaker based in London. He is a self-shooter with a defined personal aesthetic. His films have an intimate

quality and explore the challenges and beauty of everyday life. In 2010 he graduated from the Goldsmiths University of London with a Masters degree in Screen Documentary. Since then he has been working as an independent filmmaker working on his own projects and developing content for different charities and arts organisations.  His most recent film “St Helena, an end to isolation” was broadcast on the BBC News Channel as part of the “Our World” strand.

Guest Tutor: Marc Isaacs

Since 2001 Marc Isaacs has made more than 10 creative documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4. His films have won Grierson, Royal Television Society and BAFTA awards as well as numerous international film festival prizes. 
In 2006 he had a retrospective at the prestigious Lussas Documentary film festival in France and his work has been included in numerous documentary books and academic studies. 
In 2008, Marc received an honorary doctorate from the University of East London for his documentary work. Marc is a guest tutor at the London Film School, the National Film and Television School and Royal Holloway University.
His latest film 'Outside the Court' recently screened as part of BBC Four's Justice season.

Shooting Documentary: An Introduction 

Course dates: Sat 9th, 16th and 23rd January 2016

Course Tutors: Filmmaker Isis Thompson & Editor Helen Lawson

Over three Saturdays you will learn the camera skills essential to shooting in the documentary style. Through a series of camera exercises of increasing complexity you should will learn the following skills:

  • hand held shooting technique using professional video camera
  • using a tripod
  • intelligent use of automatic controls
  • getting good sound for interviews
  • filming a sequence
  • filming uncontrolled action
  • filming for the edit

Isis will go though the editing process with Editor Helen Lawson who is cutting her current project. They will go though Isis' raw material and explain why certain choice were made in the brining together of a scene.

Course costs: £300 / £270 (student) / £250 (UCL student)

If you have any enquiries regarding this course please contact


Sound for Self-Shooters

Course Tutor: Tim Bamber (

Course dates: Sat 16th and Sat 23rd July 2016

The course aims to give self-shooting filmmakers the confidence to make quick decisions on location to record decent quality sound, when hiring a sound recordist just doesn't factor into the budget. Topics will include the principles of sound recording; different microphone types and when to use them; and choosing suitable locations. You will learn how to produce and organise a good basic sound mix in post-production, to a standard appropriate for small-scale corporate projects, or prior to sending to a sound designer.

Topics will include: track-laying mono and stereo source files; setting volumes and basic compression; using wildtracks to cover dialogue edits; adding voiceovers and 'ducking' music. 

These will be taught using Adobe Premiere and Adobe Audition

The course takes place over two consecutive weekends.

Course fees: £225

To secure a place on the course you will need to make payment of the fee. If you have any questions please contact:

Maximum 6 students


Documentary Storytelling 

This five week course takes place on Monday evenings (7pm until 9.30pm) from the 9th May 2016

Course Tutor: Catalin Brylla

This course is targeted towards documentary practitioners who are either preparing, shooting or editing their documentary, scholars who want to analyse or write about documentaries, and people who are simply passionate about non-fiction films. Keeping the balance between the theory OF practice and the theory IN practice, each session will include discussions of how theoretical concepts relate to formal considerations in documentary filmmaking.

The following topics are only indicative:

Session 1 

  • Documentary elements
  • Soviet montage and conceptual watching
  • The Poetic Documentary

Session 2 

  • Spatial and emotional impact of shot sizes
  • The immersive actuality of continuity
  • The Observational Documentary

Session 3 

  • Character profiling through interviews
  • The function of cutaways
  • The Interactive Documentary
  • Participatory documentary formats

Session 4 

  • Brecht and defamiliarising the audience
  • The Reflexive Documentary
  • The Hybrid Documentary

Session 5 

  • Memory, identity and rhetoric through the archive
  • The Expository Documentary
  • Narrative structure: story and plot
  • Narrative point-of-view and subjectivity

£140 / £130 for students / £120 for UCL students (Please note student places are limited)


Film Theory: Experimental Ethnographic and Documentary Films

Thursday 19th May - Thursday 7th July 

This eight-week evening course, lead by Anthropologist Barbara Knorpp, provides opportunities to watch and discuss classic and experimental ethnographic and documentary films in order to critically engage with the politics of image making.

Starting from silent cinema of Robert Flaherty and use of montage of Russian filmmakers in the 1920s to visual video diaries in New York by Jonas Mekas, French cinéma vérité and indigenous filmmaking in Brazil, the course will give a historic overview on how the genre of ethnographic film has changed from seemingly scientific accounts to staged authenticity, fiction films and from experimental modes to collage, made out of found footage.

Below is an indication of what topics and films will be covered over the eight sessions:

  • Silent cinema and early ethnographic film
  • Peoples without Land: Pastoral Nomads in East Africa
  • Jean Rouch and Cinéma Vérité
  • Senegalese filmmaker and anthropologist Safi Faye
  • USA - Observational Mode and Visual Diaries
  • Sudanese filmmaker Taghreed Elsanhouri and the poetics of film
  • Experimental Cinema and the Essay Film
  • Participatory Video Making

Maximum 25 Students

Price: £125/ £115 Student/ £105 UCL Student




This eight week evening course, lead by Anthropologist Barbara Knorpp, provides opportunities to watch classic and experimental ethnographic and documentary films in order to critically engage with the politics of image making.

Starting from silent cinema of Robert Flaherty and use of montage of Russian filmmakers in the 1920s to visual video diaries in New York by Jonas Mekas, French cinéma vérité and indigenous filmmaking in Brazil, the course will give a historic overview on how the genre of ethnographic film has changed from seemingly scientific accounts to staged authenticity, and from experimental modes to collage, made out of found footage.

Below is a week-by-week timetable of the topics that be covered on the course. Full details of the course can be found here

Tuesday 13th January - Silent cinema and early ethnographic film

Tuesday 20th January - Peoples without Land: Pastoral Nomads in East Africa

Tuesday 27th January - Jean Rouch and Cinéma Vérité

Tuesday 3rd February - Senegalese filmmaker and anthropologist Safi Faye

Tuesday 10th February - USA - Observational Mode and Visual Diaries

Tuesday 17th February - ‘The Exiles’ and Native American on film

Tuesday 24th February - Experimental Cinema and the Essay Film

Tuesday 3rd March - Participatory Video Making

Maximum 25 Students

Price: £120/ £110 Student/ £100 UCL Student

To secure a place on the course you will need to make payment of the fee you can do this by contacting:


The course is led by award winning directors Havana Marking (Afghan Star) and Sandhya Suri (I for India). 

The course focuses on single-person multi-tasking and observational style of filmmaking in which students shoot, record sound, edit and direct their own film, responding to an undirected actuality and learn how to structure shot footage. Both courses also allow space for students who wish to work towards a more pre-scripted and televisual style of filmmaking.

· This being a practical course, the reading load focuses on technical handouts and equipment manuals. The usual reading requirement is exchanged for the compulsory hours each student spends on practical work and editing their own project, estimated at a minimum 100 hours and a maximum of 150 hours for a 15-minute film.

· The tutor and assistant are available to students outside term-time during the vacation break to assist and comment on the final editing stage of student's video projects.

· The course is assessed 80% on the student's final 15-minute video project, devised, shot and edited during the course, and 20% on a Project Diary.

· Weeks 1-3 of the course focus on hands-on exercises and appraisal sessions aimed at preparing the student in manual control of camera image, synchronous sound and techniques of sequence building and shooting to edit.

· Weeks 4-5 concentrate on synopsis, treatment, location, characterisation, narrative structure, scripting, storyboarding, logistics, legal and ethical responsibilities, narrative structure, aesthetics, character and location research.

· Weeks 6-8 are concerned with developing editing skills using the student's own digitised footage, through assembly, to rough cutting and on to fine cutting and picture lock.

· The final 9th week deals with outputting, DVD authoring and finding an audience.

· During 5 weeks of the subsequent vacation and the last four weeks of post-production training (weeks 6-9) student should be working on the rushes/footage that they have successfully filmed. The possibility also exists for the student to shoot and complete the post-production editing during the Christmas break and the first weeks of the spring term having already gained proficiency to work alone.

You will acquire the technical skills needed to complete a 15-minute video project (or a 5 minute video in the case of the 3 week course) to broadcast standards using the cameras, workstations and facilities in the department's visual laboratory. Students will acquire practical, analytical and intellectual skills in using moving image and sound recording equipment and discover how new technologies create new methodologies. During the course students will examine and deploy a range of the technical, stylistic, aesthetic, and representational dynamics involved in video construction. By doing so, participants will become more informed as well as practically experienced commentators on the 'truths', 'fictions', styles, genres, ethics and modes of filmmaking. You will recognise the potential of film to document research, and have explored issues of representation and audience reception. Structure of the Course: Students undertaking the 10 week film production course in either term 1 or term 2, will have full access to the UCL Anthropology Audio Visual Lab with 15 Adobe Premier Pro enabled edit machines as well as camera kits (shared one between two students) for the duration of the course. 

Please note participants are also required to bring two external hard-drives on the course. Cameras are shared with one other person. Participants using their own cameras may be entitled to a discount (for further information please Students using UCL Anthropology cameras are responsible for any loss, damage or repair costs.  Any failure to reimburse the department will result in a debt to UCL with the standard consequences. 

ANTHGS25 can be taken in term two. A reduced lab fee is required for those taking the course for credit. This course is available to those not taking it as part of a Masters at UCL for £1500.

Introduction to documentary filmmaking and camera skills

This is a one-week workshop with Ben Pollard and award-winning filmmaker Havana Marking (Afghan Star). It is designed for participants with non-professional or no previous filming experience. 

Havana Marking will host a master-classes and provide advice on getting started in documentary film with sessions covering idea development, pitching, writing, interviewing and storytelling. 

Professional filmmaker and camera specialist Ben Pollard will teach you the basic camera skills required for shooting documentary film. A professional editor will take some of the footage and construct a short film for the class that will be shown at the end of the week.Documentary Storytelling:

Over five evenings, learn the art of telling stories through documentary film. Sessions will cover topics such as point-of-view, narration and the interview, and will include discussions of how theoretical concepts relate to formal considerations in documentary filmmaking. This course is aimed at documentary practitioners, students, and people who are simply passionate about non-fiction films.

Summer Intensive Filmmaking course 

Make a short documentary in three weeks with tutor Sandhya Suri (director, 'I for India'). During the course participants will learn to use broadcast-quality cameras and editing software; they will also develop their research, pitching and interview skills. Further details can be found here:

Editing on Adobe Premiere Pro for Beginners with Ben Pollard 

A short practical course on how to use the industry standard Adobe Premiere Pro editing software. Students will learn to use many of the common features of the software by editing a mini practice project, and are encouraged to bring along some of their own footage to work on (this could be anything from iPhone footage to professionally shot camerawork). The weekend will be a mixture of short lectures followed by supervised editing time.

Filmmaking Facilities & Services at UCL

in the Open City Docs School

Cameras and Filming Equipment:

Students on the MA Ethnographic and Documentary Film will be supplied with:

· Sony HXR-NX3 Full HD Camera Kit

· Sennheiser Radio Mic Kit

· Røde Shotgun Microphone 

· SD Cards

· Lishuai Lighting Kit

· Professional Sony Headphones

· E-image tripod

Students on our short courses and term-length modules will be supplied with one of the following kits:  

· Canon XF100 Camera Kit

· Panasonic HMC41E Camera Kit

(Please note: these kits are normally shared one between two)

We also have available for borrowing and rental:

· Canon 700D DSLR Camera Kits

· Additional Sennheiser Radio Mic Kits

· Additional Lishuai Lighting Kits

· Shotgun Microphones

· Boom Poles and XLR Cables

· SteadyWings Hand-Held Camera Mounts

· Monopods and Tripods

· Pistol Grips

· Other Equipment

Editing Suites:

Students on courses have access to:

· 60 iMac workstations complete with Adobe Creative Cloud suite

· A 52-inch flat screen playback monitor

Equipment (such as tripods and radio mics) can be booked out by any student taking our courses. They are subject to availability and should be booked at lest 48 hours in advance. The booking form can be found here: Equipment Hire Request Form.

Equipment can also be hired from the department at a cost by those not taking one of our courses. Please contact for more details.

Video & DVD Library

The department holds a large collection of DVDs of important documentary films that students and researchers can borrow.
We have a large number of streamable films that you can see online.
The catalogue for this library is available at the Dept. of Anthropology reception desk.

The great majority of items in the library have been purchased with income raised through subscriptions and ‘laboratory fees' paid by students on the filmmaking masters modules. Without this income, the library would not exist. Therefore, all users, with the exception of students paying ‘laboratory fees', are asked to pay a subscription. Current rates are £25 for all terms, £15 for one term.


All subscribers will be asked to register by completing a simple form with contact and programme details, as appropriate. All subscribers are required to give an email address. Registration can only be done during normal office hours only.

Location & Opening Times

Dept. of Anthropology, Reception Desk, 14 Taviton Street, London W1.
The Library is only open during normal office hours. Loans are possible over the Easter and Christmas vacation, but the library is closed during the summer.

Borrowing rights

Users with borrowing rights are only allowed to check out 1 item at a time.
Items must be returned to the receptionist during working hours.
Items may be renewed (if there is no hold on it) but they must be renewed in person, during opening hours, with the item present.
Anyone who has an outstanding fine will not be allowed to check out another item until the fine has been paid.
Fines will be £5.00 per item per day. With 'days' counting as opening days.

Digital Library

A digital version of the library will be available soon in the Open City Docs School, South Wing.

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UCL Anthropology, 14 Taviton Street, London, WC1H 0BW Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 8633