Short courses


Documentary as Encounter

  • 12 hours
  • 6 evenings (7:30pm to 9:30pm) - over 6 weeks


This six-week online short course explores historical and contemporary filmmakers who use the camera as a tool for encounter.

It explores the uncertainties inherent to working processes that rely on an openness to the people and situations filmed, and to the unpredictable course these may take.

The course looks at works in which specific bonds between filmmaker and filmed are created, from interventionist approaches of Cinéma Vérité to diaristic, essayistic and personal films. You'll consider: Can filmmaking be as much to do with life as with film? Could it redefine how we relate to the unknown other in film as much as in reality?

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

Who it's for

This course is open to anyone who is interested in the subject. You don't need any particular knowledge or experience to attend.

Course structure and teaching

This course will be delivered via online distance learning. You'll need to have your own computer or other internet-connected device.

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

Classes will involve lectures, group discussion and watching clips from films. 

Course content

1. Cinema verité and encounters through intervention 

This week will look at the camera as an accomplice to create new forms of encounters.

We'll explore the idea that the filmic tool opens up a space for a type of interaction which wouldn’t be possible in everyday life. You'll look into Jean Rouch’s suggestion that “It – the camera – becomes a kind of psychoanalytic stimulant, which lets people do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.” We'll visit key works of cinema verité and explore the ethical implications of these forms of encounter.  

Films: Chronicle Of A Summer by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin.

2. Documentary as diary: Encounters in everyday life 

This week will look at films in which the filmmaker “re-encounters” the everyday behind the lens.

In these works the filmmaker’s gaze on the everyday turns the mundane into poetry. The camera becomes a tool which separates and connects the maker from/to her own world and holds an important role in this alteration of the everyday.  

Films: Diary by David Perlov, Irene by Alain Cavalier, Walden by Jonas Mekas, Katatsumori by Naomi Kawase, and The Filmmaker’s House by Marc Isaacs.

3. A journey of encounters: Structure or adrift 

This week will focus on films that employ the camera as a premise for an existential journey, crossing the border between life and film.

Whether through a preconceived framework or taking shape through the filmmaker’s chance encounters the journey will thus be analysed as both a direction or a lack of direction in the films, leading to the question: Can one embark on a film with no clear intention?

Films: People I Could Have Been and Maybe Am by Boris Gerrets; Those Who Go Those Who Stay by Ruth Beckermann; Addicted To Solitude by Jon Bang Carlsen; Et La Vie by Denis Gheerbrant; Guest by José Luis Guerin, Gallivant by Andrew Kötting; Sherman’s March by Ross McElvee.

4. Strangers within: Encounters with self through the other 

This week will focus on films which question commonly held assumptions around the division between director and subject in the documentary encounter.

We'll look at processes of making where the filmmaker’s search opens up to a mirroring effect between those she films and herself. We'll explore the idea that such films allow for the autobiographical to meet the to-be-shared biography of the subject. 

Films: L’année Prochaine on Partira by Juliette Joffé, Khalik Allah IWOW I Walk On Water, Far and Near by Xiaolu Guo, Déjà Vu by Jon Bang Carlsen, Les Glaneurs et Glaneuses by Agnes Varda.

5. Encounters with women 

This week will look at films made by and with women encountering strangers and drifting in public space.

Traversing fiction and documentary, we'll explore both the risks and possibilities specific to women when venturing into uncertain territories and pursuing encounters without knowing the outcome. We'll look at it from a historical, political and experiential perspective.  

Films: Cleo from 5 to 7 by Agnes Varda, Wanda by Barbara Loden, Je Tu Il Elle by Chantal Akerman, Places in Cities by Angela Schanelec, Le Vertige des Possibles (Uncertain Times) by Vivianne Perelmuter, Slow Delay by Therese Henningsen

6. Encounter as collaboration and working process 

This week will explore collaborative ways of working where the production processes may be seen as an encounter between groups of people and consider frameworks that allow for the imaginative input of the people involved.

We'll look at different kinds of collaborative processes and consider how these may expand our conceptions of filmmaking methods and expressions. 

Films: Here for Life by Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Adrian Jackson, In Vanda’s Room by Pedro Costa, Mysterious Object at Noon by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Ogawa Productions, Medvedkine Group, Karrabing Film Collective

Course team

Juliette Joffé

Juliette Joffé

Juliette is a filmmaker based in Brussels. Her films have been shown in festivals such as Visions Du Réel Nyon, FIDMarseille, Open City Documentary Film Festival, and Astra Film Festival. Her first film Maybe Darkness was awarded a Wildcard For Best Documentary by The Flemish Film Board allowing her to direct The Hero With A Thousand Faces which won Best Short Film Film at Mostra Internazionale Di Cinema Di Genova. She recently finished the mid-length essay film Next year, we will leave. She runs the documentary course in Brussels-based art school Preparts. As part of her programming practice, she was invited to introduce the work of Belgian filmmaker Olivier Smolders at Open City Documentary Film Festival 2017.

Therese Henningsen

Therese Henningsen

Therese is an artist, filmmaker and programmer based in London. Her films have been shown at Whitechapel Gallery, Chisenhale Gallery, Whitstable Biennale, Close-Up Cinema, SMK Statens Museum for Kunst, among others. She's a member of the two film collectives Sharna Pax and Terrassen, both engaging with the social life of film. She collaborates on ongoing film and research projects with artists and filmmakers Andrea Luka Zimmerman, Sidsel Meineche Hansen and Juliette Joffé. She's currently working on a practice-led PhD in Media Arts at Royal Holloway University and teaches on the MA Documentary and Ethnographic Film at UCL and BA Media Arts at Royal Holloway University.

Course information last modified: 8 Nov 2023, 09:45