Overview and Syllabus

10 week documentary film course

This program is located in Cape Town, South Africa, one of the most sought-after destinations on the planet. Its vibrant mix of peoples, outstanding natural beauty, rich music and cultural scene, from surfing to world-class galleries and restaurants, make Cape Town a top 10 bucket list destination. 

The course is designed to provide international students with a hothouse experience of practical film making in a developing country. Located at the intersection of the North/South divide, the creative focus lies within this fusion of cultures, finding expression in a practical outcome – the making of a 15-minute broadcast-quality documentary film. While the course is geared towards its practical outcome, it is underpinned by a rigorous academic programme designed to create a critical framework to support the creative journey of the student.

Our permanent staff are all trained internationally and have extensive film industry experience and highly-regarded academic credentials. Our master classes are hosted by visiting lecturers and industry experts, all designed to help develop specialist skills and provide a context in which the films will be made.

The academic requirement is a written reflective journal of 5,000 words (10-12 pages) detailing the journey from concept through to final delivery, with critical analysis of the process and the final outcome film. The course will cover the history and genesis of documentary film from its role as objective mirror on the world, through its various incarnations as propaganda tool, journalistic reportage, to its post-modern form as commentator, polemicist and educator.

The course takes place over 10 weeks in Cape Town South Africa, voted one of the most desirable locations in the world. The country boasts a strong tradition of documentary film making and we are able to draw on a variety of practitioners to present master classes that will enhance the specific skillsets required to complete the course.


We estimate that the course is nominally worth a total of 10 Credits, comprising 4 credits for the Academic component covering the evolution and development of the documentary form, and 6 credits for the applied skills in the achieving the practical outcome.

However, these credit ratings will be adjusted in line with your own specific institutional requirements.


DATES: 11 February - 26 April       3 June - 16 August          30 Sep - 13 December

CONFIRMATION: 4 weeks prior to start of the course

LOCATION: The Watershed, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

MEETINGS:  30 hours formal study per week   

Monday to Thursday 09.30 - 15.30  Fridays self study, crew meetings, research

REQUIREMENTS: The course is available to students with a basic knowledge of media and/or specific film and video skills who wish to enhance their learning and depth of skill, and those coming from other disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, music, the arts etc without any prior knowledge of film making who see the documentary form as an extension of their discipline into a new audio visual realm. The course will be tailored to meet the specific requirements of each intake. 

WEEKS 1 - 4: Students will during the first four weeks be taken through the conceptualization and script development process, and through multi-disciplinary workshops become familiar with all of the equipment, interviewing techniques, rotating through various disciplines so that everyone has an experience of cinematography, sound, editing and directing. At the end of this process the students will form into crews and prepare for the next step.

WEEK 5: The next week is devoted to pre-production comprising location scouting, arranging interviews, obtaining film permits, budgeting and scheduling, arranging workflow.

WEEKS 6 - 7: These two weeks are devoted to shooting the material and sourcing any archival, found or public domain images.

WEEKS 8 - 10: The final three weeks of the course are devoted to the edit,  sound work, grade, titling, finish, final delivery and screening of the documentary. The final goal is to produce a documentary of industry standard.

The teaching days will be split between teaching practical skills and academic work. The academic program is focused around developing a critical analytical framework to frame the documentary journey.

Expanded Syllabus


  • Introduction to the documentary film. Critical viewings of seminal works. The relationship between fact and fiction. The role of the narrator and narrative tropes within documentary. Developing critical awareness.

  • Pitching – the students will pitch three documentary concepts from which one will be chosen as the project for the term.

  • Script development – emotional and conceptual relevance. The narrator. How to structure the narrative.

  • Master class with visiting lecturer.

  • Multi disciplinary workshop. Film exercise. The students will fill different roles on each workshop so that by the time of shooting they are confident working in their crews and have a variety of skills.

  • Self study, reflective journal and skills catchup.



  • Critical viewings. Subjectivity and objectivity. The objective narrator. The fallacy of balance. Relativism and comment versus hard facts. The fact/value distinction.

  • Pitching the refined concept. Panel feedback, repitching in the afternoon. Archival, public domain and found sources.

  • Script – structure, format and content.

  • Master class.

  • Multi Disciplinary workshop. Interview technique.

  • Self study. Writing, skills catchup, reflective journal.



  • Critical viewings: Style – editing style tropes, shooting and lighting, framing, score.

  • Master class.

  • Script. Developing the argument. Story beats. Style. Applied research.

  • First draft – peer review and critical staff feedback.

  • Multi disciplinary workshop.

  • Self study, rewriting, skills catchup and reflective journal.



  • Critical viewings: artifice, the stylization of the real, the dramatic shot, manipulating the medium to enhance the shot. Realism and stylization. The artifice of reality.

  • Master class – financing and distribution, transmedia.

  • Second draft script. Peer review and critical staff feedback.

  • Discipline skills workshop.

  • Final draft screenplay.

  • Self study, final polish, skills catchup and reflective journal.



  • Breaking down the script. Locations and schedule, roles. Archival research.

  • Securing locations, locking down interviews.

  • Gear check and final skills catchup.

  • Final pre production checklist.

  • Location B roll footage.

  • Reflective journal.



  • In the field. Shooting the documentary.



  • Synching the rushes, assembling the footage.

  • First rough assembly as per script.

  • Critical viewings – first cut before panel. Pickups. Inserts.

  • Second cut.

  • Reflective journal.



  • Third cut viewing and picture lock.

  • Post Sound.

  • Titles.

  • Reflective journal.



  • Sound finish.

  • Grade.

  • Final screening.

  • Reflective journal and academic wrap.


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