Teaching Tools

Introduction to Documentary Projects

Introduction to Documentary Projects

Posted by: San Francisco Film Society

Documentary projects are appealing to educators teaching media making to young artists, in that they allow the focus to be on the core elements of the medium and often allow for easy curricular alignment. Documentary projects also allow educators to more easily capitalize on resources that are readily available to them. 

Learning goals 

Documentary projects are well suited to help students: 

• Develop research skills 

• Develop writing skills 

• Develop interpersonal and professionally relevant skills 

• Form relationships with people (both peers and adults) 

• Become more engaged with their school or local community 

• Engage with a historic, cultural, or social topic 

Final product 

Documentary projects can take a variety of forms: 

• Long-form documentary 

• Short documentary (usually 10 minutes or under) 

• PSA or campaign 

• Personal/autobiographical piece 

• Historical survey/presentation of a person or event 

• News broadcast 


In addition to the general elements of pre-production, production, and post-production, there are a few steps unique to documentary projects. 


• Research topic and work with primary sources 

• Contact subjects to be interviewed 

• Identify events, locations, or objects of import 

• Write interview questions 


• Conduct interviews (formal or man-on-the-street) 

• Gather b-roll 


• Record voiceover 

• Add titles (subtitles, intertitles, and facts as relevant) 

• Find local festivals or organizations that align with the subject 

• Create a campaign or community service project that aligns with the subject 

Browse the Lesson Exchange for specific activity examples.

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