Documenting Culture

Three stills from a movie.

Series of a crew working on a documentary film set. (Photographs courtesy of Rosemary Rawcliffe of Frame of Mind Films.)


MIT Course Number

21A.337J / CMS.917J

As Taught In

Spring 2004


Undergraduate / Graduate

Translated Versions


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Course Description

Course Features

Course Description

How — and why — do people seek to capture everyday life on film? What can we learn from such films? This course challenges distinctions commonly made between documentary and ethnographic films to consider how human cultural life is portrayed in both. It considers the interests, which motivate such filmmakers ranging from curiosity about "exotic" people to a concern with capturing "real life" to a desire for advocacy. Students will view documentaries about people both in the U.S. and abroad and will consider such issues as the relationship between film images and "reality," the tensions between art and observation, and the ethical relationship between filmmakers and those they film.

Related Content

Christine Walley. 21A.337J Documenting Culture. Spring 2004. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

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