Documentaries in the curriculum

| May 15, 2015

Someone documenting someone!

Jeff Frank‘s article on expanding the educational significance of documentary film (Frank 2013, detail below) is a thoughtful reflection on how film and education can intersect.

Frank is a philosopher interested in better understanding education generally, with a specific interest in literature and other narrative texts (I love that he teaches a class entitled, “What Does it Mean to be Educated?”).

In this essay he outlines how educators can be “responsive to genre” when teaching from/with documentary films. By contrasting how a documentary approach is different from a “news” approach, Frank surfaces issues of how bias is constructed and experienced through media. He argues that a documentary film necessarily surfaces the issue of how a subject is represented, and what the inherent biases, shortcomings, or values of that approach may be to the viewer. News, for example, often sidesteps this “deeper” discussion of the many problems of representation (perhaps, not wrongly, news relies more heavily on the “brand identity of the publisher?).

He then returns to his claim that documentary film is a more meaningful educational tool than a source of mere content, connecting it’s method (of surfacing issues of representation) to the project of building a democratic public. Drawing on Stanley Cavell’s voice and work, Frank shows how engaging a documentary might lead someone through a “transformational” educational experience—the kind of experience where the world changes you. Very cool.


Full citation: Frank, J. (2013). The Claims of Documentary: Expanding the educational significance of documentary film. Educational Philosophy & Theory, 45(10), 1018-1027.