UCL Anthropology


MFA Creative Documentary by Practice

Why Film?

We live in an increasingly audio-visual world. Moving image is the new universal language for storytelling. This MFA is for students who want to identify new ways of looking at the world; and find new means and methods to tell stories visually. Students on this programme will be encouraged to experiment with style, narrative structure and the possibilities of montage, and ultimately, to develop their own artistic voice in an form that is in its earliest days.

This MFA provides extended practical training in creative documentary film, but also draws on broad-based anthropological and critical thinking about the social and cultural world. Each student will have their own equipment for the duration of the course. Under the guidance of the tutors and mentors, students will learn all the technical and intellectual resources required to make outstanding non-fiction moving image, culminating in the production of a medium-length feature documentary film (40mins+).

The programme will be led by acclaimed filmmaker Sophie Fiennes (Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema), Kim Longinotto (Salma, Divorce Iranian Style), whose inspiration will prove an asset to all students, and producer Riete Oord (The Leader, His Driver and The Driver's Wife).

Why an MFA?

Our MFA lasts twenty one taught months with two and a half additional (optional) months of industry immersion training. A two year MFA will allow students to spread work and energy over a longer time frame than the standard MA and engage more widely with the comprehensive university environment. It will allow a wider range of film practice including the production of a film under 'commission' from a non-filmmaking body - a key industry skill - as well as the final medium-documentary film.

Over two years students will learn to:

  1. handle different cameras, lenses and sound recording equipment to produce cinematic image and sound as well as mastering the technical skills to use professional editing software and post production processes.
  2. experiment with different sorts of storytelling in films of different lengths for varied audiences, and to become comfortable with risk taking.
  3. produce an independent medium-length (40+ mins) film project under the highest quality supervision
  4. devise a collaborative ('commissioned') visual research project with persons not trained in film narrative techniques.

Apart from producing an impressive portfolio of work across a range of different media/styles students will also learn to keep multiple projects on the go simultaneously (a key industry skill).

The two year program is also designed to allow students to engage more deeply with the both the taught academic programmes at UCL that can feed into their documentary film research as well as the huge range of other activities that a university like UCL offers all year round.

The assessed programme finishes in June of the second year - just after the end of the academic term. After having submitted the final graduation film, there is a period of time leading up to the Open City Documentary Festival (September 4th-9th) during which students are encouraged to attend post-production and distribution training sessions managed by the Open City Docs School - including festivals visits, meetings with producers and other important experiences.

Why UCL?

In the past few years we have begun to discover what it might mean to submit to the one-click democracy of social media and the binary choice of referenda. Now, we are told this is an era of 'post-truth' - varying truths for different individuals.

UCL's documentary film programmes aim to cultivate a different sort of truth. We will train students to develop a more complex form of response. Students that study here will learn to embrace ambiguity, overcome hesitancy, and explore the process through which we come to a shared understanding of truths about the world through the production of moving image. Finding these truths is always as much a political as an aesthetic act and so we choose tutors who combine a poetical and a political aesthetic.

We are extremely honoured that Sophie Fiennes - well known for her remarkable films such Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (2017) and Over Your Cities Grass will Grow (2010), as well as the Slavoj Žižek fronted The Pervert's Guide to Cinema (2006) and The Pervert's Guide to Ideology (2012) - has agreed to act as Senior tutor for the MFA. She will be assisted by veteran documentarians Kim Longinotto (Salma, Divorce Iranian Style), and producer Riete Oord (The Leader, His Driver and The Driver's Wife), helping develop this course over the coming years.

UCL is committed to the development of innovative learning across digital media and to that end has recently allocated us dedicated space as The Future Media Studio across three floors of a building at UCL's central London campus, based in the heart of the largest concentration of creative industries in the world.

UCL is also London' leading comprehensive university - allowing students to take courses from across the range of modern scholarship. At UCL students will be able to benefit from the extraordinary research culture that comes into being uniquely in a place where artists interact and collaborate with engineers, scientists and specialists in the human world.

We see the Future Media Studio as an integral part of the creative environment of the 21st century in which UCL provides a privileged space for creative work and collaboration of a kind that is increasingly rare.

The Curriculum

In the first term students will take a course introducing the practice of Creative Documentary Film, developing the camera and editing skills necessary for entry to high level professional work in a context of critical enquiry about the social world. Students will be formatively assessed on exercises each week and submit one piece of film work for grade.

In the second and third terms - completing over the summer - students will take a course providing the opportunity to expand their range of filmmaking and develop a voice as a filmmaker with three projects submitted for formal assessment.

At the same time, students will work on a short 'commissioned' Practical Film Project - researching and independently creating a short documentary film on a subject developed with a 'commissioning body.' The latter can be an academic department, a research team, an NGO or any external body willing to engage, shaping the piece of work 'under commission'.

This project work will be supervised by the course tutors and will provide students with the chance to work in a quasi-realistic industry environment, negotiating with non-expert commissioners, managing their expectations and delivering to their requirements.

Over the summer period in this first year students begin to devise their graduation film project and to collect material for a research book - exploring the topic of the film and the stylistic approach used to articulate their vision.

From September through to the following June students will independently make a medium length creative documentary film/moving image story on a chosen subject. Production will be supervised by the course tutors and project mentor who will provide students with the chance to develop and express their professional level skills in the production of creative documentary film.

Alongside these compulsory courses students will also take three optional courses. These can come from those offered by the documentary film programme within Anthropology including film history courses and others designed to develop storytelling capabilities. Film history and theory courses from the Film Studies MA are also offered as options. Optional courses from Anthropology and, where relevant to the research for the final film, from across UCL - by negotiation with local course tutors - can also be taken.

The assessed courses finish in June of the second year, allowing for a voluntary two-month period of post-production and distribution training provided by Open City Docs, including festival visits and meeting with producers and other industry experts. This is not compulsory but is highly recommended. During this time students continue to use the full facilities of the Future Media Studio and draw on the expertise of the documentary film team. This course concludes with attendance to the  Open City Documentary Festival in early September.


We would like to see a portfolio of your work - with a film/s of up to 30 minutes duration - as well a short text about one or two film projects with illustrative images or photos. Shortlisted candidates will be called for interview (or interviewed on Skype if abroad) and a final selection will be made.

When we assess your application we would like to learn:

  • why you want to study Creative Documentary by Practice at graduate level
  • why you want to study Creative Documentary by Practice at UCL (what particularly attracts you to this programme)
  • how your personal, academic and professional background meets the demands of a challenging programme
  • where you would like to go professionally with your degree

why you want to study Creative Documentary by Practice at graduate levelwhy you want to study Creative Documentary by Practice at UCL (what particularly attracts you to this programme)how your personal, academic and professional background meets the demands of a challenging programmewhere you would like to go professionally with your degreeTogether with essential academic requirements, the personal statement is your opportunity to illustrate whether your reasons for applying to this programme match what the programme will deliver.