Chapter 00 - Introduction

Having run classes in documentary film direction for over 20 years now, I have accumulated lots of materials which I have been using in the teaching process: texts of lectures, films for analysis, DVDs with exercises, fragments of books. Lately, referring to my notes, I kept looking for things, and then I had the idea of putting all my materials in one handy manual, lighter and easier to carry, which would be the right solution for me as well as my students. Moreover, my teaching using this study program has resulted in student films, which have been noticed in Poland and abroad, and this convinced me that it may be worth preserving the method and sharing it with others.

What has contributed to the program? Most of all my own experience in film-making, especially portraying people, as well as my teaching experience.

As a first year student at the film school, I knew what I wanted to do and what I wanted to speak about, but I did not know how to achieve it, how to construct my film message in the first films. It was difficult to admit that I did not know what a shot was, how to get it, and what made it, or how to observe what was happening in front of the camera and record it so that the shots were complementary and could be edited together. All this knowledge about documentary filmmaking, its rules and possibilities, I have acquired through my own tough experience.

My program is based on defining documentary film language and getting to its core, which according to me lies in the relationship between man and reality, and taking advantage of observation as the main documentary method. Experience and knowledge of rules that have been tested and proven successful can be used in any reality, not only Polish, and applied to various documentary genres.

The manual should include information about the subject, the matter and methods of documentary film-making, and at the same time provide clues about where to look for themes, how to see reality and perceive a human in it. I do not offer here a detailed history of documentary cinema, but I have chosen films of a few directors which I consider significant and useful for analysis and comparisons. They allow you to find your way in documentary film.

I address this manual mostly to students as a complement to the teaching programme but also to people who are interested in teaching documentary. It can serve as a presentation of a well-tested method which can be used, developed and adapted to individual needs. It would be ideal if later on, the method were used by my ex-students who became tutors. Then, it would be the best continuation possible.

The enclosed DVDs are a reference to my all suggestions and exercises used. They can also be treated as examples of tested film-making methods as well as inspiration for your own work – exercises or films.

How to use the manual? Chapters I and II contain a short historical outline – basic information for everybody. Information about the matter of a documentary film can be found in chapter III, whereas various aspects of documentary filmmaking are discussed in chapters IV and V. Chapter VI includes hints concerning the work with a protagonist (important information for the students). The issues connected with this author’s programme (for teachers) include the programme’s assumptions, examples of exercises and films made under the auspices of the programme are described in chapters VII and VIII. The annex consists of descriptions of films and exercises (for everybody).

Finally, I would like to mention the people I have worked with and who have helped me to incorporate this program in my teaching career since 1989.

Full-time studies: Tadeusz Pałka, Stanisław Grabowski, Wojciech Maciejewski, Małgorzata Zając; since 2007, Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz.

Part-time studies – television production and journalism: Henryk Ryszka, Janusz Tylman; since 2009, Józef Romasz. Assistants: Mariusz Front, Łukasz Barczyk, Iwona Siekierzyńska, Maciej Adamek, Anna Rembowska, Lucy Allwood, Sławomir Kalwinek, and Daniel Światły, to whom I thank for inspiration and dedicate this manual.