ENGL445-21S1 (C) Semester One 2021

The Essay Film

This occurrence is not offered in 2021

30 points

Start Date: Monday, 22 February 2021
End Date: Sunday, 27 June 2021
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 7 March 2021
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Friday, 14 May 2021


This course studies the essay film, a hybrid genre which troubles conventional distinctions between documentary and fiction, as the model for a new mode of critical practice.

Dr Johnson described the essay as “as a loose sally of the mind.” This course explores the essay film, a hybrid genre situated at the crossroads of literary and cinematic “writing”. The essay film rejects the familiar techniques of narrative continuity and argumentative consistency associated with documentary filmmaking; rather, it adopts a variety of methods and modes of address that blur the distinction between fiction and non-fiction, politics and aesthetics, personal voice and public discourse, poetic image and conceptual thought.  

Honours students with no background in film studies are encouraged to enrol.

Topics will include:
• literary antecedents for the essay film
• cinematic antecedents for the essay film
• fiction and non-fiction in the essay film
• le camera stylo and ciné-écriture
• theoretical approaches to the essay as method (Benjamin and Adorno)
• personal voice and public discourse
• history, time and memory in the essay film
• politics and aesthetics of the essay film
• the essay film and the postcolonial subject
• women and the essay film
• the city in the essay film

Learning Outcomes

  • Learning Outcomes:
  • Advanced ability to interpret and critically analyse films
  • Ability to evaluate and critique selected concepts and methods of the discipline
  • Advanced ability to analyse the relationship between films and their social, cultural and historical contexts
  • Independence and confidence in formulating ideas and presenting a critical position, both in oral and written communication
  • Advanced ability to produce a detailed, coherent and persuasive argument in the form of an academic essay
  • Consistent application of standard academic research practices regarding quotations, references and bibliography
  • Enhanced self-confidence deriving from extensive familiarity with film and other cultural traditions and forms of expression
  • Initiative and pleasurable engagement in research, viewing, reading and writing
  • Precision, persuasiveness and autonomy in critical thinking
  • High level of spoken and written expression
  • Intellectual versatility and independence
  • Able to collaborate and participate effectively in group work


Subject to approval of the Head of Department.

Course Coordinator

Alan Wright


Assessment Due Date Percentage  Description
Response Paper 20% 2,500 words
Essay 50% 5,000 words
Oral Presentation and Written Report 30%

Please note: this course does not have a final exam.

Textbooks / Resources

Films include:
• Cane Toads (Lewis, 1988)
• Marlene (Schell, 1984)
• F for Fake (Welles, 1973)
• Bright Leaves (McElwee, 2003)
• The Gleaners and I (Varda, 2001)
• A Spy in the House that Ruth Built (Green, 1986)
• The House is Black (Forough Farokhzad, 1962)
• Reconstruction, (Lusztig, 2001)
• The Case of the Grinning Cat (Marker, 2004)
• London (Keiller, 1992)
• Vertigo Sea (John Akomfrah, 2015)
• Perfumed Nightmare (Tahihmik, 1986)
• Nostalgia for the Light (Guzmán, 2012)  

Texts: Course Readings

(Image: "Orson Welles, en F for Fake, 1973" by La Veu del País Valencià, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.)

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $1,905.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

For further information see Humanities and Creative Arts .

All ENGL445 Occurrences

  • ENGL445-21S1 (C) Semester One 2021 - Not Offered