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Topics in Film and Literature

ENGL 292.301
instructor(s):
W 2-5, Screenings W 5:15-9:00

We will explore numerous concepts confronted by documentary filmmakers by viewing representative films and discussing the issues each poses. Although these issues, such as re-enactment, treatment of the subjects, politics, and ethics have confronted documentarians since the beginning of filmmaking, the themes studied are particularly timely against a backdrop of recent questioning of just how far members of the media can go and what they can do to get their story. We will start with the beginning of the documentary movement, with Robert Flaherty, who was accused of staging his films and exploiting his subjects. We will view the films of Leni Riefenstahl, the documentarian of the Third Reich, and discuss the ethics of making films to support political causes. The ethics of filming the disenfranchised and the mentally ill will be discussed using Fred Wiseman's films, including *Titticut Follies* which documents mentally ill inmates at Bridgewater State Mental Hospital, and Ira Wohl's *Best Boy* and *Best Man* which explore the life of a developmentally disabled man. We will also review the unique ethical questions that arise when a filmmaker such as Ira Wohl films his own or another family. Students should plan to attend screenings in addition to the regular course meetings. Readings will include historical, critical, and theoretical works dealing with documentary film.