MP4021 - Approaches to Documentary

What will I learn on this module?

Approaches to Documentary introduces you to the methods and approaches used to make effective practical media productions, specifically documentary film projects. Developing towards the production of a short factual film project, this module introduces you to the relevant critical contexts and production techniques required to create all film projects. It pursues an understanding of film-making history, theory and conventions, while you learn how to articulate a film idea from script to screen. The module will introduce you to ideas for structuring and organising your film to the best creative and narrative effect. The documentary script treatments are generated and developed in the Semester 1 module, Approaches to Storytelling and these treatments are then produced in this module to make a short documentary film with the theme ‘Portrait of a Person’. The Module takes 11 weeks, with the first half of the semester dedicated to exploring the concepts and techniques required and the second half to the planning and production of the film work to completion.

How will I learn on this module?

You will learn through a combination of Workshop, Lecture and Seminar sessions, supported by Tutorials, project feedback and critique sessions. This is in addition to engaging with the suggested texts which will support and enhance your practice-based learning. You will also learn by applying the material and concepts discussed in a practical way to your own filmed exercises and projects. Workshop sessions include lecture material to contextualise the relevant approaches. Analysis and discussion of relevant film clips is used to demonstrate and explore the module’s key content. These sessions will enable the tutors to discuss the key dynamics of film production in relation to the project briefs and module context in an in-depth manner. The workshops are structured to reflect the core issues and themes of the module. Your tutors will frame the content of each timetabled session and outline both the aims of the session and the relevant learning outcomes. Tutors begin the project sessions with the clear parameters of the production together with the definitions and considerations that will enable you to negotiate the work while developing a critical understanding of the key principles. Tutorial sessions, both Group and Individual, help to guide and advise each specific project throughout production as well as offering formative feedback on the materials and process. Guided project work creates an experiential environment on which tutors can offer insight. Lecture materials, seminar guidelines and module information will all be made available on the Module’s Blackboard site.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

Your tutors will demonstrate the relevant concepts and techniques whilst also providing detailed and specific formative feedback and encouragement on your application of these principles, as the module progresses. Once the production of your documentary films is underway, the scheduled production tutorials are also designed specifically to address the minutiae of each individual project. Further one to one tutorials can be arranged outside of teaching time also. You will also receive detailed written feedback on your final summative submissions, which will identify, in detail, areas that could be improved in future work. You will also be offered the opportunity to receive further verbal feedback following this formal assessment, so that you can follow up any concerns you have regarding your critical development and future learning. The module will also incorporate assessment preparation discussion, with advice on how to approach not only the practical elements, but also how to write up the critical analysis of your project which will form the basis of the supporting materials in your final submission. Furthermore, the module tutor will offer set office hours for academic support.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at:
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team –

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:

1. To gain an understanding of the basic principles which govern modes of documentary filmmaking as well as a basic proficiency in using the relevant technology.

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:

2. To gain and develop professional skills and approaches to the organisational, practical and creative filmmaking aspects of production.

3. Evidence initiative and organisational skills.

4. Evidence a critical engagement with your practice in context, reflect on and analyse the process of learning.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):

5. Demonstrate progress made in enhancing proficiency and expertise in the relevant skills by analysing critically, evaluating reflectively and valuing curiosity in your learning. Demonstrate an effective understanding of teamwork and professional deportment.

How will I be assessed?

You will receive formative verbal feedback during Seminars, Workshops and Tutorials throughout the module as you work through the practical tasks – MLOs 1, 2 and 3.

FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT: To prepare you successfully to undertake the summative assessment(s) on this module, formative assessments will be set by the module team. These may take the form of in-class tasks or projects, developmental activities undertaken between classes, or learning exercises/activities set over a longer period. Feedback (written and/or oral) will be provided to help you learn from, reflect on, and develop in light of these formative assessments.

Summative assessment is based on the submission of the completed documentary film project alongside a selection of supporting materials, all of which should evidence engagement with professional process and technique e.g. scripts, treatments, storyboards, log sheets, release forms, schedules etc.; MLOs 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. (Production Portfolio – the finished film and all relevant supporting material).

In addition to this, the submitted portfolio must also contain a written reflective analysis, which will examine your production process for strengths and weaknesses while suggesting reasons for these, alongside suggested improvements. Equally, the finished film made from this process should also be discussed in these detailed terms, examining it critically for strengths and weaknesses, and suggesting areas for possible improvements.

You are also required to submit a piece of original research examining a specific production role as part of this portfolio. This research should examine the role and how it is performed in a professional context in the industry, alongside a discussion of the entry level considerations to the role for Graduates.

Detailed written summative feedback will be provided on both your film and your individual portfolio.

You will also be offered the opportunity to receive further verbal feedback following this formal assessment, so that you can follow up any concerns you have regarding your critical development and future learning.





Module abstract

Approaches to Documentary will give you an understanding of the key principles and ideas in documentary film culture, as well as the basic proficiency needed to make a documentary production. You will explore case studies of significant films and film-makers, and gain an introduction to the location, camera, lighting and sound techniques required for location filming, culminating in the production of a short documentary film. Through a consideration of the critical contexts, and through a series of practical and creative exercises, you will develop your understanding of film making culture and workflows, and how to employ your skills creatively and effectively as a visual storyteller. You will develop an understanding of the fundamental principles related to formal visual language while exploring the film making process from script to screen, thus providing you with the core skills relevant to a career in the industry. Your tutors have expertise in documentary history and culture, and a great deal of relevant industry experience which informs the module and its delivery. You will be supported in the development of not only your skills but also an enhanced understanding of professional crew roles and the requisite planning and organisational skills.

Course info

UCAS Code P315

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years Full Time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Arts

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024 or September 2025

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

Full time Courses are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but could include elements of online learning. Most courses run as planned and as promoted on our website and via our marketing materials, but if there are any substantial changes (as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority) to a course or there is the potential that course may be withdrawn, we will notify all affected applicants as soon as possible with advice and guidance regarding their options. It is also important to be aware that optional modules listed on course pages may be subject to change depending on uptake numbers each year.  

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with possible restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors if this is deemed necessary in future.


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