Realism and the Cinema

Module code: HA1114 

Module co-ordinatorDr Guy Barefoot

Module Overview

Realism and the Cinema from its nineteenth-century origins to the digitalisation of the twenty first century, cinema has drawn on the ability of the camera to give an impression of reality. This is explored in this module through an examination of documentary and fiction films, selected ‘realist moments’ in the history of cinema, key theoretical debates, and shifting perceptions of realism over time and within different cultural contexts.

Examples of Potential Screenings

  1. Man with a Movie Camera (dir. Vertov, 1928)
  2. Bicycle Thieves (dir. de Sica, 1948)
  3. The Conversation (dir. Coppola, 1974)
  4. Children of Men (dir. Cuarón, 2006)
  5. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (dir. Reisz, 1960)
  6. Dead Man’s Shoes (dir. Meadows, 2004)
  7. Soldier Girls (dir. Broomfield and Churchill, 1981)
  8. The Thin Blue Line (dir. Morris, 1988)
  9. Festen (dir. Vinterberg, 1998)
  10. Four months, Three Weeks and Two Days (Mungiu, 2007)

Selected Reading

  • Richard Armstrong, Understanding Realism (2005)
  • Linda Badley (ed.), Traditions in World Cinema (2006)
  • André Bazin, What is Cinema? Essays Selected and Translated by Hugh Gray, 2 volumes (1971)
  • Stella Bruzzi, New Documentary, 2nd edition (2006)
  • Jeffrey Geiger and R.L. Rutsky (eds.), Film Analysis: A Norton Reader (2005)
  • Barry Keith Grant and Jeanette Sloniowski (eds.), Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video (1988)
  • Julia Hallam and Margaret Marshment, Realism and Popular Cinema (2000)
  • Lúcia Nagib and Cecília Mello (eds.), Realism and the Audiovisual Media (2009)
  • Bill Nichols, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary (1991)
  • Robert Stam, Film Theory: An Introduction (2000)
  • Christopher Williams (ed.), Realism and the Cinema: A Reader (1980)

Teaching and Learning Methods

Lectures, screenings, seminars, guided independent study.


  • Essay, 2,000-2,500 (35%)
  • Exam (35%)
  • Seminar log (30%)