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The University of Southampton

FILM2026 Film, Realism and Reality: representing the world, from revolution to the everyday

Module Overview

Moving pictures are often thought of as having a unique ability to uncover reality, because their basis in photography offers a mechanical record of the world rather than a creation dependent on the hand of the artist. Indeed, the very first films were documents of moments from everyday life, while the development of the fiction film and of film technology have been determined by the intention to give a convincing impression of the appearance of real life. Realist movements, from documentary to Dogme 95, have frequently set themselves up as radical alternatives to mainstream cinema, criticising them as illusions or fantasies. Furthermore, all films, even – or especially – those which seem most real, require organisation for us to make sense of the events recorded, and realism is itself a way of producing narrative, rhetoric and persuasion. This module will seek to introduce you to some of the principal realist and documentary movements, asking how the simple aim to ‘show things as they really are’ has resulted in a range of creative and wildly different cinematic forms. It will consider the issue as one of film aesthetics, and will trace its development historically, ranging from early cinema to reality TV, and as a global question of film movements. It will discuss the different political purposes of realist and documentary cinemas, their relationship to industrial questions and state institutions, and ask how their social aims produce different artistic and formal outcomes, each of which expresses an idea about how cinema functions as a way of knowing the world and of changing it – or of keeping it as it is.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Demonstrate appropriate levels of understanding and knowledge about the range of realist cinemas
  • Articulate a critical understanding of realism historically
  • Understand the social, political, historical, economic, and cultural contexts of the various forms of realism
  • Connect the themes explored in this module to other international contexts
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Engage critically with a range of theories, films, and cultural products
  • Apply the module’s concepts and themes to other aspects of film aesthetics, and expand knowledge of these themes into other areas
  • Critically research and analyse film in academic writing and oral presentations
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Communicate effectively in writing and speech
  • Independently research appropriate resources
  • Critical analysis
  • Organise time effectively


This module will focus on film, but will regard realism as a broad cultural project and make reference to other forms including television, photography, publishing and novels. It will be structured so as to discuss some of the principal realist movements and to analyse how their various claims to represent truth can be understood as socio-cultural and methodological issues which have aesthetic consequences. The screenings and readings will be designed to convey these questions via global, formal and historical perspectives. At the start of the module, we will begin by establishing the reasons why realism is an issue in artistic representation, and the specificities of its application to cinema. The module will proceed through discussion of different moments in realism and will include mention of early actualities, British documentary, European realist movements, Third cinema, Direct Cinema, Cinéma vérité and reality television. Topics will include a split between documentary (broadly defined), and fiction. Running across the discussion of the different forms will be a developing application of broad theoretical concerns around realism, knowledge, film form and aesthetics, including the seminal realist theories of Kracauer and Bazin, amongst others. Typical films might include Chronicle of a Summer/Chronique d’un été (Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, France, 1961), The Day I Became a Woman/Roozi ke zan shodam (Marzieh Makhmalbaf, Iran, 2001), Nostalgia for the Light/Nostalgia de la luz (Patrizio Guzmán, Chile, 2010), Paisà (Roberto Rossellini, Italy, 1947).

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - Lectures, used to introduce key issues and themes - Seminars, incorporating small group work and larger group discussion - Screenings of selected films - Individual consultations with tutor Learning activities include - Independent study, research, and viewing - Critical thinking, reading, and writing - Engagement in seminar discussions as both speaker and listener - Preparation of written assignments

Preparation for scheduled sessions35
Completion of assessment task75
Practical classes and workshops20
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Lúcia Nagib and Cecilia Mello (eds) (2013). Realism and the Audio-visual Media. 

Christopher Williams (1980). Realism and the Cinema: A Reader. 

Chronicle of a Summer/Chronique d’un été (Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin, France, 1961). Film

Bill Nichols (2010). Introduction to Documentary. 

André Bazin (2005). What is Cinema? vol II. 

Anna Jerslev (ed.) (2002). Realism and ‘Reality’ in Film and Media. 

Siegfried Kracauer (1997). Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Analysis  (1200 words) 30%
Digital presentation 10%
Essay  (2500 words) 60%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

FILM1020 or FILM1001 or FILM2006 or FILM1027 or FILM1020

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