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Documenting Justice: International



Co-sponsored by the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility, the International Honors Program, Capstone International and the Department of Telecommunication and Film, Documenting Justice: International is a specialized interdisciplinary course in international ethnographic filmmaking.  Advances in technology have made documentary film production and distribution affordable and accessible, offering students an opportunity to apply the tools of videography to telling culturally significant stories from all corners of the globe.  Harnessing a wide variety of perspectives drawn from disciplines across the humanities, the class aims to teach students how to use film to both document and analyze the many dimensions of culture and social experience at issue when focusing on stories of justice or injustice.


Students devote two on-campus semesters in addition to their study abroad term in completing the class.  Entailing the study of visual anthropology, ethnographic film, and the ethics of cinematic non-fiction, the course culminates in the creation of an original seven to nine minute film.


The first semester of the course, completed before the travel experience begins, is dedicated to instruction, exercises, and readings which familiarize students with both the fundamentals of video production and their application to ethnographic and documentary approaches.  Assignments undertaken in the first semester raise representational, methodological, and ethical issues in approaching and working through a documentary film project.  By the end of the first semester, students will be comfortable with the techniques and process of production. 


During the spring semester (or summer term) of the course, students travel abroad, choose a film topic, become well-acquainted with their subjects through extensive fieldwork and participant observation, capturing footage over the span of several weeks.  Demonstrating a concern for justice or injustice in a community, such pieces may focus on an individual, a relationship, an occurrence, an institution, a sub-culture, or a world-view.


During the fall semester following the students’ return from abroad, students edit and then premiere their films at a public screening at the BAMA Theater in downtown Tuscaloosa.


Although this course requires no prior experience in filmmaking or production, participating students must complete either IHP 105: Honors Culture and Human Experience (an introductory course for the International Honors Program designed to sensitize IHP students to life and culture outside the United States) or CIP 200: Introduction to Global Studies (an introductory course in the Global Studies Certificate Program to introduce students to the cultural, economic, physical, and political aspects of being a world citizen in the 21st century). Class size is limited to six students and requires permission of the instructors.  Students are encouraged to apply early.

2008 class
In the spring and summer of 2008, three Documenting Justice students studied abroad and created films examining perceptions of other countries and cultures through the eyes of a young American.

  • Lindsey Mullen’s film focuses on the relationship of history to the culture and the perceived importance of the teaching and understanding of history in post-apartheid Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • Nicole Ortega’s film focuses on the nature of international volunteerism in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is a sensitive investigation into the reason that individuals volunteer, the true effectiveness of international volunteerism and related non-profits and the perception of poverty.
  • Mary Katherine Gleissner traveled to Cairo, Egypt during the spring of 2008.  Her film focuses on Muslim women’s decision to wear or not to wear the hijab, including the poignant issues related to their decisions.

2009 class
Two students have been selected for the 2009 International Documenting Justice program. One student will be filming in Cuba in the spring, and the other student will be filming in New Zealand over the summer.

Interested students should fill out the application and e-mail it to cesr@ua.edu or return it to the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility, located on the first floor of Temple Tutwiler Hall.  Feel free to use additional pages if necessary. The priority deadline for application is March 9, 2012, but applications will be accepted after this date until all slots are filled. As applications are received, students will be contacted to schedule an interview with instructors. For more information, please call 205-348-6495 or e-mail cesr@ua.edu.