General information

Module title Human and Animal Rights in Documentary Cinema
Language English
Module lecturer Grzegorz Ziółkowski
Lecturer's email
Lecturer position Prof. UAM
Faculty Faculty of Polish and Classical Philology
Semester 2021/2022 (winter)
Duration 60
USOS code 03-AP-HAR


Module aim (aims)

The course aims at teaching how to:
a. carry out in-depth studies of documentary filmmaking on human and animal rights violations;
b. investigate selected cases in their cultural, economic, historical, political, and religious contexts;
c. analyse and interpret creative outputs of leading contemporary documentary cineastes;
d. scrutinise selected problem areas, select cases, critically assess materials related to them, and share findings in the framework of group presentations and individual essays.

Students are assessed on the base of their:
a. attendance and active participation in the class discussions;
b. 500 words reports, prepared by students in pairs, which summarize one of the previous classes;
c. 20 slides group presentations;
d. 2,000 words individual essays.
Assessment criteria:
a. meeting deadlines;
b. level of preparation for consultations;
c. quality of a written report (ability to focus on essential elements, language precision, text editing, respecting word limit);
d. quality of a group presentation (approach to the subject matter, distribution of work load within the group, collaboration with others, language precision, selection of iconography, graphic design);
e. quality of an individual essay (approach to the subject matter, language precision, writing style, text editing, respecting word limit).

Pre-requisites in terms of knowledge, skills and social competences (where relevant)

English language competence: at least B2 level (upper intermediate)


Class # 1: Introductory meeting. Presentation of the course programme, its aims, methodology, outcomes, and assessment criteria.

Class # 2: Exploring dark landscapes and sinister zones. Contemporary documentary filmmaking on human and animal rights violations: the problematics overview. Lecture and Q&A.

Class # 3: Human rights, women rights, animal rights: introduction. Seminar.

Class # 4: Elements of documentary film analysis and poetics. Film documentaries typology. Seminar.

Class # 5: The ripple effect: how the past affects the present. The “Cold War” and its aftermath. Lecture & discussion.

Classes # 6–8: Case study # 1: The aftermath of the 1965–66 Indonesian mass killings as presented in Joshua Oppenheimer’s nonfiction film diptych.
Class # 6: The 1965–66 Indonesian mass killings in historical and political contexts. The filmography on the subject matter. Joshua Oppenheimer’s creative biography. Lecture and Q&A.
Class # 7: Analysis and interpretation of The Act of Killing (2012). Seminar.
Class # 8: Analysis and interpretation of The Look of Silence (2014). Seminar.

Classes # 9–12: Case study # 2: Patricio Guzmán’s essay film trilogy on the 1973 Chilean military coup and its consequences.
Class # 9: The 1973 Chilean military coup and its repercussions in historical and political contexts. The filmography on the subject matter. Patricio Guzmán’s creative biography. Lecture and Q&A.
Class # 10: Analysis and interpretation of Nostalgia for the Light (2010). Seminar.
Class # 11: Analysis and interpretation of The Pearl Button (2015). Seminar.
Class # 12: Analysis and interpretation of The Cordillera of Dreams (2019). Seminar.

Classes # 13–14: Case study # 3: The 1975–79 Khmer Rouge genocide and its aftermath as represented in Rithy Panh’s landmark documentary The Missing Picture (2013).
Class # 13: The 1975–79 Khmer Rouge genocide and its aftermath in historical and political contexts. The filmography on the subject matter. Rithy Panh’s creative biography. Lecture and Q&A.
Class # 14: Analysis and interpretation of Panh’s The Missing Picture. Seminar.

Classes # 15–16: Case studies introduced, analysed, and interpreted by students in the form of group presentations, worked out in consultation with the lecturer. Seminars.

Class # 17: Ethical aspects of human and animal rights documentary filmmaking. Seminar.

Classes # 18–19: Case study # 4: The “Colonia Dignidad” – a horrendous German sect in Chile as represented in documentary films.
Class # 18: The “Colonia Dignidad” in historical and political contexts. Cultural confrontations with the sinister commune and documentary films on the subject. Lecture and Q&A.
Class # 19: Analysis and interpretation of Marianne Hougen-Moraga and Estephan Wagner’s documentary Songs of Repression (2020). Seminar.

Classes # 20–21: Case study # 5: Suicide protests by fire as seen through documentarians’ lenses.
Class # 20: Self-burnings and self-immolations as vehicles of protest – in historical, political, religious, and social contexts. Lecture and Q&A.
Class # 21: Analysis and interpretation of Jason Loftus and Eric Pedicelli’s documentary effort Ask No Question (2020). Seminar.

Classes # 22–25: Women rights abuses as represented in documentary films.
Class # 22: Confronting the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in film documentaries, including Eve’s Apple: Ending Female Genital Mutilation (2017), dir. José Manuel Colón. Seminar.
Class # 23: Female perspectives on war in Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ For Sama (2019) and Agnieszka Zwiefka’s Scars (2020). Seminar.
Class # 24: Fight for self-expression. Analysis and interpretation of Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami’s Sonita (2016). Seminar.
Class # 25: Sex trafficking and forced prostitution as represented in Finding home by Derek Hammeke (2014) and Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman (2004). Seminar.

Classes # 26–27: Animal rights in documentary filmmaking.
Class # 26: Animal welfare and environmental concerns in Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn’s Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014). Seminar.
Class # 27: Documentary films as elements of animal rescue campaigns as exemplified by Broken Spirit: The Galgo’s Last Run, dir. Piep Vandaag (2016). Seminar.

Classes # 28–29: Presentation of students’ essays on women and animal rights abuses as represented by film documentarians. Seminars.

Class # 30: Final discussion, feedback, and summary.

Reading list

1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights: (or
2. Behlil, Melis. “The Act of Killing: An Interview with Joshua Oppenheimer.” Cineaste, vol. 38, no. 3, 2013, pp. 26–31.
3. Behlil, Melis. “The Look of Silence: An Interview with Joshua Oppenheimer and Adi Rukun.” Cineaste, vol. 40, no. 3, 2015, pp. 26–31.
4. Guest, Haden. “Ad Astra per Aspera: An Interview with Patricio Guzmán.” Cineaste, vol. 36, no. 3, 2011, pp. 20–25.
5. Walker, Andre L. “Film Review: Nostalgia for the Light. A Documentary Film by Patricio Guzmán.” Journal of Research Administration, vol. 43, no. 1, 2012, pp. 125–131.
6. Boyle, Deidre. “Finding the Missing Picture: The Films of Rithy Panh.” Cineaste, vol. 39, no. 3, 2014, pp. 28–32.
7. Boyle, Deidre. “On a Morality of Filming: Conversation with Rithy Panh.” Cineaction, no. 97, 2016, pp. 39–44.
8. Falconer, Bruce. “The Torture Colony.” American Scholar, vol. 77, no. 4, 2008, pp. 33–53.
9. Ziółkowski, Grzegorz. A Cruel Theatre of Self-Immolations: Suicide Protests by Fire and Their Resonances in Culture, Routledge, 2020, pp. 2–18.
10. Stevens, Isabel. “Every Minute Was Important.” Sight and Sound, vol. 29, no. 10, 2019, pp. 35–37.
11. Small, Jamie L. “Trafficking in Truth: Media, Sexuality, and Human Rights Evidence.” Feminist Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, 2012, pp. 415–443.
12. Taylor, Chloë. “The Precarious Lives of Animals: Butler, Coetzee, and Animal Ethics.” Philosophy Today, vol. 52, no. 1, 2008, pp. 60–72.

1. The Act of Killing, dir. Joshua Oppenheimer, co-director Christine Cynn, and Anonymous (2012; 115’).
2. The Look of Silence, dir. Joshua Oppenheimer (2014).
3. Nostalgia for the Light, dir. Patricio Guzmán (2010).
4. The Pearl Button, dir. Patricio Guzmán (2015).
5. The Cordillera of Dreams, dir. Patricio Guzmán (2019).
6. The Missing Picture, dir. Rithy Panh (2013).
7. Songs of Repression, dir. Marianne Hougen-Moraga and Estephan Wagner (2020).
8. Ask No Question, dir. Jason Loftus and Eric Pedicelli (2020).
9. Eve’s Apple: Ending Female Genital Mutilation, dir. José Manuel Colón (2017).
10. For Sama, dir. Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts (2019).
11. Scars, dir. Agnieszka Zwiefka (2020).
12. Sonita, dir. Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami (2016).
13. Finding home, dir. by Derek Hammeke (2014).
14. Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids, dir. Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman (2004).
15. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, dir. Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn (2014).
16. Broken Spirit: The Galgo’s Last Run, dir. Piep Vandaag (2016).