Beyond Story (FV2129.01)

Mariam Ghani

“Forms are ethical, political, and cultural commitments in their own rights,” as Alexandra Juhasz and Alisa Lebow wrote in their 2018 “Beyond Story” manifesto. The documentary form is also known by another name: “non-narrative.” But over the past two decades, documentary has been increasingly dominated by “story,” in the sense popularized by mainstream fiction films. Stories have characters, conflicts, resolutions, unities and epiphanies. They usually privilege individual trajectories over collective histories and humans over ecologies; can impose the appearance of sense on truly senseless events; are designed to evoke feelings rather than analysis; and often obscure the operations of systems and structural forces in their insistence on the importance of personal narratives. The  “Beyond Story” manifesto reminds us that documentary form has ideological implications: it affects how we organize our understanding of the world, and indeed, what we perceive to be a valid document (for example, “If it isn’t shot like verité, it’s too biased”). Meanwhile, the increasing ability of AI models to understand and replicate familiar patterns like classically organized narratives is making it increasingly difficult to distinguish the “really real” stories from the deeply fake. Taking the manifesto as a starting point, this 7-week screening and discussion-based seminar will explore both storied and non-storied approaches to documentary form in recent productions, including true crime, hero’s journey, essayistic, impressionistic, observational, structural, abstract, non-linear, algorithmic, and explicitly anti-capitalist approaches.

Learning Outcomes:
Across this term, students will:
- Engage with current debates in film studies and among filmmakers;
- Develop methods for considering the relation between form and content in cultural production;
- Analyze the structure and distribution circuits of recent films, television series, and/or moving image artworks;
- Write brief responses to assigned screenings or readings;
- Produce a final paper or project that engages with the course themes, after an individual meeting with the instructor;
- Present their final to the group.

Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Course Level: 2000-level
Credits: 2
W 2:10PM - 5:50PM (1st seven weeks)
Maximum Enrollment: 15
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: 2000 , All courses , Film and Video , First Seven Week , Fully In-Person , Media Studies , Two Credit
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