A University of Virginia professor will team up with a French documentarian and scholar for a new class this Summer Session that combines filmmaking and film study, and could conclude with students using their new documentary skills to help local nonprofits.
“Unbiased Camera: A Digital Documentary Workshop,” will meet May 13 to 31, and will be taught by Alison Levine, associate professor of French in the College of Arts & Sciences, and Jean-Luc Lioult, chair of documentary film studies at the Universite d’Aix -Marseille in France.
The course grew from Levine’s interest in documentary filmmaking and the perception that it offers an unbiased and factual look at a subject.
“The course title should probably have a question mark after it, because part of what interests me about documentaries is the idea that people perceive them as being different than other types of film,” Levine said. “They are about education and information, but they are also a form of artistic expression, so of course they are not completely unbiased.”
The course is also an opportunity for Levine to work with Lioult, a scholar and filmmaker whose work she has admired since first discovering his books on documentary theory. Lioult also teaches workshops on documentary filmmaking, and his expertise will help students in the course with the practical side of their work.
“He’s both a practitioner and a theorist,” she said. “Most film theorists don't know the first thing about turning on a camera, and a lot of very good filmmakers and videographers don't know a lot about theory. Jean-Luc combines the two sides of filmmaking, which I’m also interested in.”
In the course, students working in small groups will both study French documentary film and produce a short documentary of their own. Because both instructors are bilingual, students will have the option of taking the course in either French or English. The idea, Levine said, is to make it accessible to students who may be more interested in the filmmaking side, as well as to those who see it as an opportunity to hone their foreign language skills.
Levine hopes that the course’s final project will involve students making short films about local nonprofit organizations.
“I’m going to offer them the option of making an information video that a local nonprofit could use to talk about what they do,” she said. “I thought that would be an interesting way to connect with the broader Charlottesville community.”
Giving the students a local partner to work with on a film also gives the assignment a level of real-world significance and makes it more than just an academic exercise, she said.
“I imagine they will be working in groups of four or five to work on these final projects, because there are so many pieces to them, and that lets people settle into different roles that can really bring out students’ different strengths and skills,” she said. “Rather than just having them make something for a course, I try to come up with assignments that have a reason to exist in the world outside the University.”
The course builds on Levine’s interest in writing and audiovisual skill-building, a practice she has recently incorporated in classes on digital storytelling and filmmaking.