Documentary Resources

Below are guides, books and links that we often recommend to those who ask us for resources on documentaries, visual anthropology, and ethnographic filmmaking. If you know of a great documentary resource not included among the links below, please email us.

Study Guides (PDF)

Article: How to Create a Curriculum Guide for Your Documentary Film, by Jessica Schoenbaechler

Documentary Production

Directing The Documentary

by Michael Rabiger

Details the process of making documentary films from structuring an idea to controlling crew and participants during a shoot.

The second edition of MDFV fully updates the popular guidebook that has given readers around the world the knowledge and confidence to produce their first documentary film.

Comprehensive guide to making documentary films and video.

Technical book on planning and executing shots. Presents a wide variety of approaches to filmic composition.

A sequel to Katz other book, it offers insights into filmic composition and direction from a wide variety of directors.

Film & Video Budgets

by Deke Simon, Michael Wiese

A technical book on creating film budgets, includes details on documentary budgets large and small. Line-by-line budgets included in book.

Information about resources, risk capital, pre-sales, finding investors, and case studies from independent filmmakers.

Templates, detailed explanations and legal advise concerning intellectual property contracts and movie production. Geared toward British law, but suitable for understanding U.S. contracts.

Covers most of the useful contracts for producers ranging from music license rights to depiction and copyright release.

General guide to digital filmmaking and production from low-cost techniques to promotion.

Documentary History and Theory

Ethnographic Film

by Karl G. Heider

In this new edition, Karl Heider thoroughly updates Ethnographic Film to reflect developments in the field over the three decades since its publication, focusing on the work of four seminal filmmakers — Jean Rouch, John Marshall, Robert Gardner, and Timothy Asch.

The most thorough resource on Jean Rouch available in any language, Ciné-Ethnography makes clear this remarkable and still vital filmmaker's major role in the history of documentary cinema. A long-overdue English-language resource that distills Rouch's thinking on filmmaking, ethnography, and his own career.

The authors provide the first critical history and in-depth appraisal of the observational cinema movement and make a new case for the importance of observational work in an emerging experimental anthropology.

A comprehensive guide to visual anthropology and the use of film in ethnographic research. This book is an excellent guide for ethnographic research, and for film and other media instruction concerned with cross-cultural representation.

An important ethnographic filmmaker's frank ruminations on his life-long documentary subject: the !Kung of Africa. Marshall addresses pioneering field techniques as well as the dispossession of the !Kung.

Though relatively unsung in the English-speaking world, Jean Rouch (1917-2004) was a towering figure of ethnographic cinema. Over the course of a fifty-year career, he completed over one hundred films, both documentary and fiction, and exerted an influence far beyond academia.

The Cinema of Robert Gardner

by Lucien Taylor & Ilisa Barbash

The first volume of essays dedicated to Gardner's work — a corpus of aesthetically arresting films which includes the classic Dead Birds, Rivers of Sand, and Forest of Bliss. Eminent anthropologists, philosophers, film theorists, and fellow artists assess the innovations of his films and the controversies they've spawned.

More than the chronicle of a single work, this detailed and candid account of the making of Dead Birds is also a thoughtful examination of what it meant to record the violent rituals of warrior-farmers in the New Guinea highlands and to present to the world a graphic story of their behavior as a window onto our own.

Including nearly 500 photographs, The Impulse to Preserve contains the thoughts and images of a lifetime spent probing human experience in the world's most remote corners.

Making Forest of Bliss, the first in Harvard Film Archive's series "Voices and Visions in Film," presents a dialogue between Gardner and his colleague anthropologist Ákos Östör, illustrated with more than 150 images captured from the film.

A compassionate and ethical history of documentary films providing such breadth that most people will want to reread several times to absorb Barnouw's rich historical information.

Important documentary film scholar that comprehensively, but succinctly covers the issues surrounding documentary history and criticism.

Documentary Film Classics

by William Rothman, J.Dudley Andrew, and Henry Breitrose

Analysis of important documentaries that have defined the field of documentary filmmaking.

Highly recommended handbook on documentary and ethnographic filmmaking with information on shooting, funding, distribution and ethics.

Provides counter theory and critical insight into some of the more widely established documentary issues.

A series of thirteen interviews from documentary filmmakers such as Nick Broomfield to Albert Maysles.

A series of essays ranging from the influence of early-documentary filmmaking to digital filmmaking's influence and possible destruction of the documentary form.

Covers many ethical issues surrounding documentary filmmaking especially in regard to contemporary television forms.

The Documentary Tradition

by Lewis Jacobs (Compiler)

A survey of the development and achievements of documentary films from the 1920s to 1970. The books includes the writings of nearly 100 filmmakers and critics.

Principles of Visual Anthropology

by Paul Hockings (Editor)

A compilation of edited articles from important documentary scholars and filmmakers. Offers more depth than general documentary history books.

Visual Anthropology: Photography As a Research Method

by John, Jr. Collier, Malcolm Collier (Contributor), Edward T. Hall

Extensively covers anthropological research as it relates to photography.

Viewpoints: Visual Anthropologists at Work

by Mary Strong (Text Editor), Laena Wilder (Visual Editor)

This book presents visual anthropology as a work-in-progress, open to the myriad innovations that the new audiovisual communications technologies bring to the field.

Illustrated anthology of essays published in Visual Anthropology Review from 1990 to 1994. Contains essays from indigenous media to postmodern theories on documentary filmmaking.

Important academic scholar of visual anthropology who covers a variety of topics as it relates to ethics, research, ethnographic image making, and important filmmakers such as Tim Asch and Robert Garner.

Technically focused book covering aspects of visual research, especially as it relates to sociology. The book focuses on photography as a research tool.

A collection of essays on films representation of the other and the creation of cultural understanding from that representation.

Exploration of visual ethnographic research qualitative abilities and the problems associated with visual information. Extensive review here.

This book explores early-twentieth-century representations of non-Western indigenous people in films ranging from the documentary to the spectacular to the scientific. (From the Publisher)

Rethinking Visual Anthropology

by Marcus Banks (Editor), Howard Morphy (Editor)

A collection of essays by leading anthropologists covering topics from Balinese television to the study of landscapes from the perspective of visual anthropology.

Transcultural Cinema

by David MacDougall, Lucien Taylor (Editor)

A collection of essays on the history of visual anthropology and issues surrounding the field. Important are the challanges to thinking that visual anthropology is just a visual record of traditional ethnography.

A history and analysis of visual ethnographic image making from important historical figures such as Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Jean Rouch, and David and Judith MacDougall.

An overview of visual perception in how it relates to drawing, problem-solving, and mind-brain interaction. The book contains puzzles, experiments, and problems.

Excellent resource and theorizing on visual communication, especially in using the visual form for learning and teaching.

Ma vie avec les Ovahimba is a moving testimony about the years anthropologist and filmmaker Rina Sherman spent in the Namibian village of Etanga. She offers both a scientific and a woman's point of view as seen through the lens of her film and photographic cameras. In French.

Documentary Links:

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