Documentary Foundations: Visualising the World (Online)

A practical beginner course exploring the various ways documentary filmmakers can influence or shape how they represent a space, a character, or an idea.

Price £165 / £155 Students / £145 UCL Students

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In this course, we will explore representation in documentary film through a variety of different lens. Through practical exercises each week, you will create short in-camera films. We will place an emphasis on how you, as a filmmaker, can influence and shape how you represent a place or a character or an idea.

We will watch and discuss relevant film clips that will inspire you.

All exercises must be filmed in-camera, should be no longer than 6-minutes long, and must be uploaded before the end of the day on Tuesday. Everyone should try to watch all the films uploaded before the next session.

This course is aimed at beginner filmmakers. There is no equipment required, you will be able to use your smartphone or your camera if you own one. You will be able to edit the material using free resources such as Da Vinci Resolve, or a Premiere Pro trial.

Week 1: Space/Place

Introduction to course + icebreaker
How can you visually describe a space, such as a room or a building or a landscape? We will explore the possibilities of representing spaces as meaningful places.
This week you will learn about planning, storyboarding and a basic story structure.
Prep for Exercise 1: Creatively document a space in five acts

Week 2: Personal Interview

Discuss your ‘space’ films
How can you encourage people to speak and reveal something interesting about themselves? What are the ingredients that are needed for a good interview?
This week you will discover and practice interviewing techniques and consider possible approaches to filming an interview.
Prep for Exercise 2: Interview someone on a specific theme

Week 3: Action is Character

Discuss ‘character description’ films
Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: ‘action is character’ – we can often learn more about a character through what they do rather than what they say.
This week we will explore the potential and the challenges of observational filmmaking. Prep for Exercise 4: Make an observational film about a character.

Week 4: Visualising the Abstract

Discuss ‘character observation’ films
How can we visualise abstract ideas and emotions?
This week we will use the language of film to creatively explore abstract ideas
Prep for Exercise 5: Make a film that explores one of the following themes: nostalgia / silence / happiness / fear / or, any other theme you wish to explore.

Week 5: Camera as a Mirror

Discuss ‘abstract’ films
How can you tell a story about yourself?
This week we will draw from all the ideas we have already learned in the course to explore autobiography.
Prep for Exercise 6: Make a film that explores or reveals an insight into your story or yourself.

Week 6: Break

No teaching this week, you will have time to work on your autobiography film.

Week 7: Reflection

Discuss ‘autobiography’ films
Reflect on what we have learned through the course, what you found useful, and discuss the next steps of your journey.


“I feel that this course has provided an excellent insight into documentary filmmaking, I think we were especially fortunate with the cohort of applicants who attended this course as we all evidenced real commitment and engagement, inspired by Sana’s refreshingly rigorous and thoughtful feedback on our weekly assignments. I have already maintained contact with one of my peers despite living in a different country; this has been an excellent learning platform.” – Rebecca Disney, previous course participant


This course will be delivered via online distance learning, and students will require a computer or other internet connected device.

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If you still have other questions relating to a specific course or request, please get in touch with us via emailing shortcourses@opencitylondon.com

or call us at +44 20 3108 7586



Sana Bilgrami


Sana Bilgrami, born in Pakistan, is an award-winning documentary director and a lecturer on the undergraduate Film programme at Edinburgh Napier University. Her research interests span the use of archive, 8mm film and personal voice, the interrogation of identity, and the interstices of historical, geographical and fictive spaces in documentary practice. Her broadcast credits include 'Across the Waters' (2004), shortlisted for a Satyajit Ray Award, BAFTA-nominated 'Tree Fellers' (2004), and 'New Ten Commandments' (2008). 'Fragments of A Love Story' (2013) was exhibited at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Recently she worked with visual artists to curate international exhibitions 'Landscape of Memory' (2020, online), and 'Ecologies of Displacement' (2022, Karachi/Edinburgh). She is currently developing a feature-length documentary film, The Album.