In this course, we will examine a mode of audio-visual practice that is notoriously hard to classify: the “essay film.” Situated between fiction and documentary, the essay film promises allegiance to neither while liberally drawing on a broad range of artistic and critical idioms, from self-portrait to travelogue, diary to dialogue. Through a series of screenings and readings, we will pursue an adequate definition of the cinematic essay, its aesthetic ambitions, and its political motives, while bearing in mind its fundamental resistance to taxonomic description. We will also endeavor to understand how “the essayistic” spans linguistic and audio-visual forms of expression. While our focus will be largely on the development of the cinematic essay in post-World War II Europe, we will read properly essayistic writings that, in keeping with the principles of the sixteenth-century founder of the essay form, Michel de Montaigne, conduct an open-ended and ambulatory examination of their chosen topics, "testing out" ideas and arguments more so than offering up a tidy and conclusive thesis. We will also consider works in “third cinema” contexts of Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere. Among the figures we will take into account are: Chris Marker, Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda, Guy Debord, Alain Resnais, Harun Farocki, Alexander Kluge, Robert Kramer, Edgardo Cozarinsky, Jonas Mekas, Amos Gitae, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Orson Welles, Fernando Solanas, Johan Grimonprez, and David Achkar. Requirements will include a short analysis paper, a research paper, and a presentation (directly related to the research paper). Students will have the option of submitting an audio-visual essay of their own making as their final project.