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Visual Evidence in Cinema


Admission requirements

Enrolled in Film and Literary Studies BA program, or completion of one previous film related course.


Cinema, and in particular documentary film, has provoked a host of questions surrounding our understanding of authenticity, of truthfulness, of objectivity, and of reality. We wonder: can a documentary film depict its object of representation in a transparent, factual, and accurate way? In other words, we wonder about the nature of documentary representation in its relationship to evidence, truth, and fact.

It is sometimes assumed that documentary film is capable of representing socio- historical events, people, places, and phenomena, without manipulation or distortion. When that happens, it is taken for granted that cinema can present the facts as they exist out there. That audiovisual depiction may relay a world to us that pre-exists the act of representation. But what does it mean to say that documentaries present us with objective accounts of their subject matter? What does it mean to suggest that cinema has the ability to generate presumably undistorted representations of the world we live in?

This course investigates how documentary film attempts to convince us of its accuracy, truthfulness, and authenticity. The course will look, not only at documentary film, but at other modes of visual representation that rely on mimetic assumptions of filmic registrations of truth, like surveillance footage and contemporary video art. Examining various case studies, we will address the ways in which film convinces us of its objectivity, and persuades the viewer to believe a certain version of the truth. We will not merely analyze the films from the perspective of theory, but allow our objects of analysis to help theorize what it means to speak of authenticity and truth in the first place.

Which rhetorical strategies do these films use? What are the political, ethical, and aesthetic implications of those strategies? On which conventions does their mode of representation rely? How do the representations of reality that are produced by means of stylistic and narrative techniques, become legible in our socio- political context? And under which material and cultural conditions does this imagery become meaningful?

This course examines issues surrounding the ambiguous relationship between fact and fiction, between what counts as real, and what counts as imaginary. Looking at a range of different objects, from traditional documentary film, to more experimental work, and from GoPro to CCTV footage, this course investigates the politics of visual evidence in cinema.

Course objectives

At the close of the course:

  • The student has knowledge of the most important developments in the field of documentary film

  • The student has gained insight into the dominant theoretical frameworks, the reflections on them as well as on the approaches to historical developments

  • The student has gained knowledge of the most important theoretical, artistic and socio-political debates regarding the functions and the effection of documartary strategies in cinematic media

  • The student is able to identify the differences and the intersections between documentary and fiction film and to reflection on these

  • The student has the capacity to independently analyse documentary films using the concepts and ideas that we have processed in our study of theoretical texts.


The timetables are avalable through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


Brightspace Discussion Board contribution
A short form paper which serves as a draft for the long form paper
Long form paper


Long form paper (100%)


Resit will be available for Long form paper (100%) only, and will be due one week after the grades are published.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

All readings are available through the Leiden University Library, or through the Brightspace page for this course.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal