COOL CLASSES: “Race and Representation in Documentary Filmmaking”

In a hands-on, collaborative environment, students explore important themes portrayed on screen while developing their own cinematic practice.

Class name: “Race and Representation in Documentary Filmmaking

Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Visual Studies Zeynep Sertbulut

Says Sertbulut about her class:
Race and Representation in Documentary Filmmaking” is an introductory, cross-listed (visual studies/anthropology) production course on the theory and practice of documentary filmmaking through an exploration of race onscreen. The course combines film screenings, creative exercises, lectures, and class discussions with a workshop environment in which students explore their own cinematic artistic practice, politics of representation, and ethical considerations in nonfiction filmmaking. As inspiration, we watch and study a wide variety of innovative documentary films that bring alternative voices and histories to screen and read filmmaker interviews. 

During the first part of the semester, students work on their own shooting and editing exercises. During the second half of the semester, students work in teams to develop a short film as their final project for this class. I hope that by the end of the class, students gain a critical understanding of the power relationships in documentary filmmaking, see the role of collaborative filmmaking in deconstructing and challenging racialized gazes in film, and take these lessons with them outside the classroom to create culturally sensitive and ethical representations of the people they want to feature onscreen.

Sertbulut on why she wanted to teach this class:
What does it look like when members of the marginalized communities document themselves and each other? This question drove me to design and teach this class. 

As a media anthropologist and a documentary filmmaker, I see documentary films as a powerful means of self-expression that can challenge the imposition of skewed representations in mainstream media, particularly those of marginalized groups. I wanted to engage students in discussions about the ways in which film and media in general perpetuate racist discourses and representations and teach them the theoretical and practical tools that will help them challenge such representations through their own filmmaking practices.

Sertbulut on what makes this class unique:
The only course in our department that deals primarily with the themes of race and representation onscreen, this course emphasizes the importance of hands-on, collaborative work and shared authority — both with others in the class and the people who appear in student films — and provides an exciting opportunity for students to first-hand experience the creative and collective endeavor of nonfiction filmmaking from pre-production, to production, and post-production.