Plot Summary

Course Description: Filmmaker Dziga Vertov asks us to think about the intimate relationship between writing and filmmaking: “In the process of shooting and editing [a film], I covered thousands of pieces of paper with my writing, all merely in order to show the truth on the screen.” Likewise, four decades later, filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard declared that “cinema is truth 24 frames per second.” This course will ask you to “write” both films and essays, working as Vertov and Godard did to show “truth” as we focus on ethnographic, observational, educational, and other kinds of documentary film. What we will see is that while “truth” is a noble aspiration for both film and writing, it is as much composed, constructed, and written as it is simply “found” in the world. Thus, in studying and making documentary films, we will pay attention to the different ways “truth” is written: how it is rhetorically positioned, described in language, composed in organizational patterns, supported by evidence or quotation, argued for by persuasive voices, and addressed to particular audiences. In short, we will see how the shared techniques of writing and filmmaking are in fact techniques crucial to evaluating, understanding, and presenting claims about “truth”–and about the world more broadly. To connect this to Queens College’s liberal arts mission, we will focus on our own campus, making connections between film and writing so we can discover and create the “truth” of our college experience.

Students will be loaned a portable digital video camera (Flipcam) for use in the course this semester. Students will be required to sign a rental agreement, to bring the camera to each class, and to use the camera only for ENG 110 class assignments. Students will upload their videos to YouTube and to our class blog. These short films will be paired with writing assignments that ask students to observe their surroundings, persuade others, and research their community. Thus, students should consider filmmaking and writing as two interrelated practices of composition.

Here is “Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze” (1894), the earliest surviving motion picture copyrighted in the United States.

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