Films: “Sherman’s March”, Ross McElwee; “The Thin Blue Line”, Erroll Morris; “Roger & Me”, Michael Moore; “Hoop Dreams”, Steve James; “Civil War; Episode 1”, Ken Burns; “Pandemic” (All episodes of this NetFlix documentary series.)
OPTION 1: Films from the ’80s & ‘90s
I.) Write a synopsis for each film, siting key moments throughout the film. 1 page each. II.) For each of the films, write a detailed discussion in response to the prompt that’s included: A) Sherman’s March 1) Rewatch the opening scene of “Sherman’s March”. Per the discussion in class, create a written discussion about the change in documentary style that McElwee signals though the images and narration in this opening scene. ￼ 2) Then review this article about McElwee and discuss the ways that he has influenced later filmmakers who borrowed from his groundbreaking work in “Sherman’s March”: http://archive.boston.com/news/education/higher/ar… (Links to an external site.) B) The Thin Blue Line 1) Based on what we watched in class, and this npr interview segment with director Erroll Morris, discuss his statements about truth and subjective truth and site a minimum of three examples in “The Thin Blue Line” in which Morris show us an individual’s subjective truth, and then he at least implies the actual truth. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?stor… (Links to an external site.) 2) Do you agree with Morris’s assessment of truth and subjective truth and why or why not? (The more developed your opinion is in its discussion, the higher your grade is likely to be for this part of the paper.)
C) Roger & Me
1) Through online research, find an interview with Michael Moore in which he discusses seeing Ross McElwee’s “Sherman’s March”. Quote Moore’s impressions of the film, and describe how he put those impressions to work in Roger & Me.
2) In Roger & Me, there is a scene in which we see one abandoned house after another as the song, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” plays. How does this scene relate to the overall story in the film, and what impressions did the scene give you? D) Hoop Dreams 1) Discuss the approach taken by the filmmakers of following the two basketball players for six years. What do they show us about not only the huge challenge of making it into professional sports, but also the ways in which family and societal pressures play into that challenge. Within your discussion, note the reception that critics (not only these two) gave the film at the time (1994) (and you can also find some interesting facts related to the film within these reviews): https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/hoop-dreams-199… (Links to an external site.) https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longte… (Links to an external site.) 2) Write an update, since the film was released in 1994, on William Gates and Arthur Agee, and on the film itself. You can base the updates on what is mentioned on the Wikipedia page, but you can also get extra credit if you find additional updates through independent research. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoop_Dreams
E) Civil War: Part1
1) Ken Burns’ series on the Civil War catapulted him into fame, as it was met with a very large viewership while it aired on PBS in 1990. In this course we discuss the stylistic development of the documentary film genre. We noted Ross McElwee’s signaling of what turned out to be a stylistic sea change with thanks to Michael Moore for popularizing McElwee’s different approach to documentary film storytelling. Ken Burns is sometimes referred to as a “traditionalist” in his style. If the expository mode had become the expected norm for documentaries produced for mainstream audiences prior to McElwee’s film, what does Burns bring to the table in terms of advancements, stylistic changes or additions, etc.? While he was not as revolutionary as McElwee, he does make some fairly subtle additions and changes to the expository mode.
OPTION 2: Six part Netflix series, “Pandemic”
I. Write a detailed one page synopsis for each episode, explaining the different angles on pandemics that are used throughout the films.
II. Choose one of the recurring themes that appear throughout the series, and compare it to what we see happening today with the US and worldwide response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Through independent online research, find authoritative sources and reliable stories about the current virus outbreak. Site the information and news stories you find, and also site specific moments from all six episodes of “Pandemic”. (Note that a paragraph or two in response to this prompt will not suffice. I am looking for a detailed response in which you discuss and compare in detail, one of the “threads” or sub issues that appears throughout the Pandemic series with current stories covered in the media about the COVID-19 virus.)