Investigations and Appropriations in the Ethnographic and Documentary Film

  • 16 hours
  • 8 evenings (7pm to 9pm) - over 8 weeks


This eight-week evening course will investigate strategies for exploring and representing the physical world, the imaginary realm and the transient experience of human life through experimental, ethnographic and documentary film.

From the earliest reels of the Lumiere Bros, cinema has sought to capture, and occasionally provoke, a human reaction to the environment.

Filmmakers have provided vivid interpretations of the world and its people through numerous visual strategies - from cinema verite to rich experimentations in the creation of self-image. This has sometimes been done in a naively observational way, at other times in a deliberately interventionist manner.

This course will combine introductory lectures, screenings and group discussions.

Sessions will be held on Monday evenings for eight weeks. Sessions will start at 7pm and last approximately 2 hours, including a short break.

This course is run by the Open City Docs School, based in UCL's Department of Anthropology.

Who this course is for

The course is open to anyone with a basic knowledge of, an interest in, documentary and independent film forms, anthropology and representation.

It's suitable for the general public, undergraduates and postgraduates. It's not aimed at practitioners, although they're welcome to attend.

Course content

Below is an indication of topics covered in each session:

  1. Early ethnographic experiments in reality and transformation: From Lumiere Bros to Jean Rouch, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson via Dali and Deren.
  2. Totalitarianism’s destructions and constructions: Vertov’s Kino Pravda, Pudovkin’s Storm Over Asia and Riefenstahl’s Olympiad
  3. Whose life, whose voice? British documentary from the Griersons through Jill Craigie and Mary Field to Molly Dineen
  4. Rivers of no return: The peoples of the Amazon and the Danube through the lens of Ciro Guerra (Embrace of the Serpent) and Annik LeRoy (Vers La Mer)
  5. African heritages: Post-colonial versions from Zora Neale Hurston and Ousmane Sembene to Raoul Peck and Yance Ford
  6. Anthropology is where you find it: Frederick Wiseman’s 'follies' and Agnes Varda’s 'gleaners'
  7. Aesthetic explorations: From Chris Marker's Sans Soleil to the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab’s Leviathan
  8. Migrating bodies, changing identities: In This World (Michael Winterbottom), After Spring (Ellen Martinez, Steph Ching), Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi), the Otolith Group

Cost and concessions

This course fees are:

  • £150 - full price (external applicants who aren't students)
  • £125 - external students
  • £110 - UCL students
Course team

Helen de Witt

Helen is an independent lecturer and curator. She teaches at Birkbeck University of London, University of the Arts London, and the National Film and Television School. She's a programmer of the BFI London Film Festival Experimenta section for international artists’ moving image.

Previously, Helen was Head of Cinemas at the BFI, and BFI Festivals Producer for the BFI London Film Festival and BFI Flare. She's also a director of The Service Co-op, an independent production company dedicated to making films about social justice, the arts and creative collaborations. She's published on independent cinema and artists’ film.

Course information last modified: 15 Jan 2019, 12:11