Short courses


Documentary Storytelling

  • Tuesday evenings (6.30pm to 9pm)
  • 5 or 10 weeks


This online evening course focuses on the art of storytelling in documentary film.

Each session will include discussions of how theoretical concepts relate to formal considerations in documentary filmmaking.

This course takes place across 10 Tuesday Evenings (6.30pm to 9pm). You can choose to attend the first 5 sessions of the course only, or to attend all 10 sessions.

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

Who it's for

This course is for:

  • documentary practitioners who are either preparing, shooting or editing their documentary
  • scholars who want to analyse or write about documentaries
  • anyone who is passionate about non-fiction films

There are no pre-requisites required to apply for this course.

Course content

The following content is an example of what will be covered, but is only indicative.

Session 1: Soviet Montage and Poetic Documentary

  • Documentary elements
  • Soviet montage and conceptual watching
  • The poetic documentary 

Session 2: Continuity and Observational Documentary

  • Spatial and emotional impact of shot sizes
  • The immersive actuality of continuity
  • The observational documentary

Session 3: Interviews and Participatory Documentary

  • Character profiling through interviews
  • The function of cutaways
  • The participatory documentary

Session 4: Defamiliarisation and Reflexive Documentary

  • Brecht and defamiliarising the audience
  • The reflexive documentary
  • The hybrid documentary

Session 5: Narrative and Point-of-View

  • Narrative structure: story and plot
  • Narrative point-of-view 
  • Creating empathy for characters 

Session 6: Comedy Documentary 

  • Documentary comedy and distantiation 
  • Parody and mockumentaries 
  • The investigative documentary comedy 

Session 7: Materialities: Objects and Spaces

  • The mediation of space and time 
  • Everyday materialities 
  • Memory as trace and event 

Session 8: Essay Film

  • Portrait essay 
  • Travel essay 
  • Diary essay 
  • Editorial essay 
  • Refractive essay 

Session 9: The Other and Performative Documentary

  • Representing the Other 
  • Embodied knowledge 
  • The performative documentary 

Session 10: Stigma and Stereotypes

  • Stereotypes and social stigma 
  • Methods for de-stigmatising communities 
  • Case study: undoing disability stereotypes 

Course team

Dr Catalin Brylla

Dr Catalin Brylla

Catalin is Principal Lecturer in Film and Television at Bournemouth University. He has a doctorate in Media and Communications from Goldsmiths, University of London. His research aims for a pragmatic understanding of documentary spectatorship with regards to experience, empathy and narrative comprehension. In a larger context this work also advocates for the filmmaker’s understanding of how audio-visual and narrative representation impacts on society’s understanding of stereotyped groups, such as disabled people, women and African cultures.

He’s editing two books, Documentary and Dis/ability (with Helen Hughes) and Cognitive Theory in Documentary Film Studies (with Mette Kramer). As a practice-led researcher, he’s just completed two feature documentaries about blindness and the everyday, and another feature documentary, Zanzibar Soccer Dreams (with Florence Ayisi), about Muslim women playing football.

Learner reviews

“I enjoyed the course. It was my first documentary course, and the final result was positive. I have learned a lot and have much more to learn. The programme was good for a short course—dynamic classes balanced between the contents, debate and participation.” – Ricardo Sá Nogueira, previous student 

“The course was brilliant, very rich in content and interactive. Catalin has been extremely supportive throughout, provided a lot of resources and offered great analytical depth, which was very suitable to my needs.” – Eleni Pappa, previous course participant 

Course information last modified: 8 Dec 2023, 13:47