This is a list of the titles and course descriptions of the most recent undergraduate courses I have taught at University of California, Berkeley:
INSTRUCTOR OF RECORD
Documentary Film and Other Non-fictions (Film & Media 128, Summer 2015 & 2016)
The primary purpose of this course was to give an overview of the history and theory of documentary film. Recognizing that documentary is one of many non-fiction filmmaking practices, our course will seek to understand and define documentary within a larger constellation of non-fiction media forms like home movies, science and ethnographic films, and reality television. Central to our examination of documentary will be to ask: In what ways do non-fiction media construct objectivity, claim truth, and promote social change? And how have these strategies changed overtime? In order to explore historical changes, this course is divided into several sections roughly relating to key historical periods in the documentary tradition: Documentary Origins (1890s to 1920s), Documentary Traditions (1930s to 1950s), Technologies of Truth: Cinema Vérité and Direct Cinema (1960s to 1970s), New Subjectivities (1980s to 2000s), and finally, Contemporary Documentary Strategies (2010s).
Makin’ Copies: Replication and Repetition in Global Visual Culture (Film & Media R1A: The Craft of Writing, Fall 2017)
The central goal of this class will be to explore the themes of copying and repetition in visual culture as a means to develop and practice the skills of effective writing. The ease of making copies today (copying is just two clicks away) seems to threaten long celebrated American ideals like individuality and innovation. Headlines that offer examples of American public figures caught plagiarizing from opponent’s speeches or lifting language from Wikipedia demonstrate the trouble copying can cause. But copying is also quite popular and incredibly lucrative. From pop music remixes to Hollywood superhero remakes, so much of global popular culture relies on copying. In this course we will ask: What are the values associated with copies? What impact does repetitive replication have on the meaning of the original material? How might the copy be a powerful social tool to critique the status quo?
To understand the different approaches to copying in global visual culture we will study two concepts at the center of copying: replication and repetition. We will examine a variety of visual media from social media (memes, reposting) to film and television remakes, and address key themes related to replication and repetition, from photography itself as a “replica” of the real world, to repeat viewing with the rise of home video and the Internet, to repetition as a fundamental structure of computer programming.
Along with short weekly writing exercises designed to help you generate new thought and practice your writing skills, in this class you will be asked to complete two formal writing projects. In the first writing project you will analyze a film sequence. The purpose of this project will be to practice noticing the elements of film art (mise-en-scène, composition, editing, and sound) in order to articulate how film means. For your second longer writing project you will use the close-reading skills that you develop in your first project to put your ideas in dialogue with multiple texts. Since this is an introduction to college writing course, our collective work reading, watching, and questioning ideas of “the copy” will give you the tools to become strong critical thinkers and will also provide the groundwork for developing well-formed and persuasive written arguments. Expect to find in this class the critical exchange of ideas, rigorous and fun debate, and generous feedback, all in the pursuit of discovering and pushing the limits of our collective knowledge.
Classic Trash: Media Refuse from Celluloid to VCDs (Film & Media R1B: The Craft of Writing, Spring 2017)
Introduction to cinema courses often draw from a well-established canon to cover a handful of art-house classics. Conversely, this course offers an introduction to global media culture through an exploration of the classic popular and “trashy” material that occupies many of our screens. Trash appears to be valueless, abandoned, forgotten, unwanted. Its meaning seems obliterated once it is thrown away. Yet artists often turn to the garbage heap to create new works. From collage filmmaking to “trashy” television genres and their afterlives as low-quality digital images, memes, and gifs, this course will consider how films, television programs, and digital image culture engages with the recurring themes of trash across many genres of global film and media products.
What does it mean to find meaning in detritus, to produce an aesthetics of trash? What happens when one person’s trash becomes another’s “art”? Can analytical readings of “trashy” content offer social or political critiques of global inequality or is cinematic “trash” solely pudding for the masses? We will examine how trash becomes a reoccurring theme in various global historical contexts, ranging from the postwar to the postcolonial and postsocialist moments. We will watch movies and shows that document the presence and use of trash, that recycle abandoned films into “art” objects, and that indulge in the “trashy,” cluttered, hysterical, and scandalous qualities of soap operas and reality television. We will investigate how refuse, technological and historical, can produce not only a politics of trash, but also an aesthetics of the trashy image that continues to refuse its own refusal.
When Reality is Pushed Up to 11: The Mockumentary and the Documentary Problem (Film & Media R1A: The Craft of Writing, Fall 2014)
How are arguments formed and what is rhetoric’s role in lending them credence? This is a crucial question for first-time college writers and for the study of documentary film. However, our course approached this question by focusing on documentary’s obverse—the mock documentary or mockumentary. Engaging with a range of theoretical and cinematic texts, like Rob Reiner’s rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, we illustrated how an assemblage of ingrained tropes constructs reality on film, what appears objectively real. Throughout our course we studied the formal tenants of documentary realism to understand how traditional examples of the form exaggerate, accentuate, or excise facets about their subjects. At the core of our discussions we will ask, “What is cinema’s relationship to the real?” These explorations brought us from the origins of documentary during the silent film era to the infamous digital photographs of Abu Ghraib.
By considering how documentary conventions can manipulate the viewer into accepting a filmmaker’s fictional and sometimes absurd realities as the truth, we will come to understand how argumentation operates in the same way. Examining documentary convention will not only make course participants more critical writers aware of formal minutiae, but it will also provide the groundwork for the development of well-formed and persuasive argumentation that is crucial in successful academic writing.
Monsters (Film & Media R1B: The Craft of Writing, Spring 2014)
The primary goal of this course is to teach practical skills in college writing with a special emphasis on research. The topic of this R1B will examine the monster as cultural object. Course material will address zombies, vampires, Frankenstein’s monster and other terrifying “creatures” as menaces born from conceptions of race, class, and sexuality; in other words, all of those unnamed “threats” that ceaselessly renegotiate their meanings in the mysterious process we call “modernity.” Enthusiasm for creepy things required.