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Personal Filmmaking: Reframed (Online)

Challenging the notion that personal filmmaking is a move away from the journalistic and political, this short course will give you the tools to deeply consider (and reconsider) what a personal documentary can be.

This course is for documentary practitioners working with personal material who are looking to deeply consider (and reconsider) what a personal documentary can be.

Documentary, as an art-form, is still often held to standards that rely on a journalistic commitment to objectivity and to seeing the story from both sides. Historically, personal filmmaking has tended to be seen as a move away from the journalistic or political. This course is centred on a challenge to these notions, on the premise that the deeply personal – if engaged with critically and rigorously – can also be deeply political. Inherent in the act of foregrounding personal experience as something of value is a challenge to the common notions of records, archive, truth and memory, expanding the definition of documentary in productive and even socially impactful ways. Personal documentaries can reframe narratives from new angles, question history as it has been told, and disrupt historical precedents of who directs documentaries, for whom, and how.

This course will begin by looking at a growing, complex landscape of personal films, using these films to explore the multitude of possible approaches to personal filmmaking. Through theory and practice we will unpack the many different ways to tell a personal story, and ask crucial questions embedded in the genre: what are the ethics of working with contributors in one’s own life? Does personal always mean autobiographical? How do we work creatively with personal archives? How can personal work also be political, and have wide-ranging social impact? Through analysing contemporary work, group discussions, and short exercises, participants will be encouraged to put this new thinking into practice.

Examples of contemporary work we will explore in the course:

  • Strong Island, Yance Ford
  • Users, Natalia Almada
  • Cameraperson, Kristin Johnson
  • Hale County This Morning This Evening, Ramell Ross
  • The Edge of Democracy, Petra Costa

Session 1 – Introduction

  • Welcome and introductions
  • Some inspiration! Talk through some contemporary examples of personal filmmaking focused on the role the filmmaker chooses to take
  • Discuss goals for the course, and any issues students have confronted in their own practice
  • Set homework exercise to be done for next session (point of view focused)

Session 2 – Ethics

  • Discuss homework exercise.
  • The challenges, strengths, ethical dilemmas and practicalities of working with people you know with examples from practice and clips from films
  • Analysis of cinema examples: comparing good and bad results
  • Set homework exercise to go through as a group in the next session (ethics focused)

Session 3 – Creative approaches to the personal

  • Discussion using examples of creative approaches to the personal including: archive, reconstruction, essay techniques
  • Practical guidance on applying these techniques
  • Discussion of homework assignment from last session, and set homework exercise for next session (focus on creative techniques)

Session 4 – When the personal is political

  • Discuss homework exercise
  • Discussion using examples of political personal filmmaking
  • Analysis of cinema examples: comparing good and bad results
  • Q&A: an opportunity for participants to reflect on their work in progress or ideas they are moving forward with, and to get advice on next steps

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

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Grace Harper


Grace Harper is an award-winning British filmmaker using creative non-fiction to explore how socio-political contexts embed themselves into daily experience and the structures - both internal and external - that we create and fight against in order to move within the world. Her films have presented at international film festivals and gallery spaces including The BFI, Sheffield Doc/Fest, The Barbican, The Institute of Contemporary Arts and The British Library. She has worked as a filmmaker for the Emmy and BAFTA award winning Channel 4 News Film Fund making short films that explore online radicalisation and democracy in the digital age. Her films for broadcast include ‘Conviction’ (Channel 4 2020), ‘Internet Warriors’ (Channel 4 2019) ‘The Kids are Alt-Right’ (Channel 4, 2017/Sheffield Doc/Fest 2017) and ‘The Battle for Batley and Spen’ (Channel 4 2016). Her mid length film ‘Speak to Me’ was selected for the 2018 British Council presentation of films, and her 2015 short ‘Here We Are’ was showcased at BAFTA when she was selected as a BAFTA Star of The Future. Alongside her filmmaking practice she teaches at UCL and The Met Film School, and is on screening committees for True/False Film Festival and Camden International Film Festival. She is currently making her first feature documentary with the support of Catapult Film Fund, the Points North Institute, UnionDocs, The British Council, BAFTA and the BFI. She is currently the recipient of a 2021-2022 SPACE Artist Award and is part of the ‘Radical Futures’ Group exhibition in SPACE Ilford, and her short film, The Family Statement is in its festival run before being released on Field of Vision in the Autumn.