Study Abroad India: Documentary Production and Cultural Studies


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Study Abroad India: Documentary Production and Cultural Studies

4 hours; 3 credits

(Film 49.2, TV/R 49.2, TV/R 749.2)

Instructor: Annette Danto, Professor

Brooklyn College

Department of Film; Department of TV.Radio

2900 Bedford Avenue, 217 Field House Building

Brooklyn, New York 11215
This 21 day course will offer a meaningful combination of lectures, field trips, sightseeing and production work. Students will learn about Indian cultures, religions, history and cinema, with excursions to major cultural, historical and religious sights, such as the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Old Delhi, Meenakshi Temple, and the Delhi National Museum.
Tamil Nadu and the Prasad Academy will provide the setting for studying documentary production within a South Indian context. Through a series of classroom lectures and screenings students will receive a comprehensive introduction to South Indian cinema, with an emphasis on documentary. Students will also be introduced to the role media can play in community outreach efforts in both urban and rural regions. This will include traditional folk media as well as digital video formats.

The production component of the course will involve on-going collaboration between CUNY and Prasad Academy students. This will include: tech sessions, writing assignments, group exercises, research and development of a documentary topic, and the production and post production of that documentary. Students with little or no background in documentary production will learn some of the basic technical skills required to operate digital cameras, sound equipment, as well as how to structure a short documentary. All students will be expected to participate as crew members. Those with a preference for non-technical crew positions will be able to work as: writers, script supervisors, production coordinators and assistants.

In the development of a documentary topic, the role of culture, religion, and social structure will be considered. Students will learn the importance of cultural sensitivity when considering how we depict poverty, deprivation and economic development. Since we will be based in both urban and rural regions of Southern India, the concerns of urban and rural development will be integrated in all course material, field trips and lectures.
Course Objectives:

  • Students will learn the fundamentals of documentary production including: research and development, production and post production.

  • Students will collaborate with Indian documentary students on all aspects of pre-production, production and post production.

  • Students will reflect on their daily experiences through written journal entries, incorporating required readings, classroom lectures, newspaper articles, travel experiences and personal reflection.

  • Students will learn about South Indian cinema, and the diversity of Indian society.

  • Students will gain an appreciation of the diversity of Indian cultures and religions.

  • Students will visit important historical sites in both North and South India, including: Old Delhi, the ancient city of Agra, Madurai, Meenakshi Temple and the Gandhi Museum

  • Students will visit the Gandhigram Rural Institute and learn about creative approaches to rural education and community outreach through street theater, puppetry, and digital video shows.

  • Students will visit rural villages in the Dindigul District, Salem and Bangalore, and gain an understanding of urban vs. rural India

Course Syllabus:

Pre-Departure Orientation Program: November 15th 5 – 7:30PM.

Lecture: Traveling to India – how to prepare for traveling to South Asia. Presentations by former Study Abroad India student participants. Lecture: Introduction to Documentary Production

Pre-Departure Orientation Program: December 15th, 5 – 7:30PM

Lecture: Traveling to India – misc. travel preparations

Lab: Documentary topic selection and tech sessions
January 1st, 2008 PM: Depart New York
January 2nd, 2008: Arrive Delhi
January 3rd: Delhi

10AM – Welcome by Dr. Adam J Grotsky, Executive Director USIEF (Fulbright India)

11 – 12 – Introduction to Indian Culture, Dr. Shobita Punja, Heritage Education and Communication Service, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage

1-2PM – Lunch at USIEF

2-4 – Visit to National Museum accompanied by Dr. Shobita Punja

4:30 – Free for individual pursuits

8PM – Dinner
January 4th: Day trip to Agra and Taj Mahal
January 5th: Delhi

8-9AM – Breakfast

9:30 – 11AM – USIEF – Lecture – Urvashi Butalia, “The Indian Women’s Movement”,

Author: The Other Side of Silence, Founder of Zubaan Books/Kali Press

12 – 1PM – Lecture: Dr. S.C. Goswami, (Delhi University)

Introduction to the Role of Religion in India 1-2PM – Lunch at USIEF

3PM – Walking Tour of Old Delhi

8PM – Dinner

January 6th – Depart Delhi; Arrive Chennai

January 7thChennai

Prasad Academy – Welcome and introductions.

Lecture: South Indian Cinema

Lunch: Prasad Academy

Lecture: Documentary Production in a South Indian Context

Divide into crews, meetings, tech sessions

January 8th- Chennai – Prasad Academy

Crew meetings, location “recce” visits

Lunch: Prasad Academy

Begin script development

January 9th – Chennai – Prasad Academy

Scripts due after lunch.

Meetings with Professors Danto and Hariharan for script conferences and production approval.
January 10th – Chennai – Prasad Academy


January 11th Chennai – Prasad Academy

Logging and rough assembly.

January 12th Chennai – Prasad Academy


Rough cut screenings.
January 13th – Chennai – Prasad Academy

Fine cuts/Sound Editing

January 14th – Chennai - Prasad Academy

Fine cut editing

Final Screenings and party – Late afternoon
January 15th – Madurai
January 16th- Madurai

Lecture/walking tour of Meenakshi Temple and old city of Madurai

Pongal Festival – Jallikattu – “running of the bulls”
January 17th - Madurai


January 18th Gandhigram

Gandhigram Institute of Rural Health – “Using Media for Community Outreach”

Gandhigram Children’s Home

Street theater troupe program

January 19th Gandhigram

Visit to Gandhi Museum, rural region, Khadi industries, Ayeurveda plantation

January 20th Arrive Bangalore

Sightseeing program.

January 21st Bangalore Program

Sightseeing program.

January 22nd Depart for New York

Grades and Assignments:
Grades will be based on student participation in all class lectures, production work, and field trips.
In addition, students are required to write eighteen daily journal entries beginning on January 3rd of a minimum of 250 words per entry, incorporating a daily newspaper article, class lectures, sightseeing, required readings and self reflection. The journal should include all that you are learning regarding Indian culture, religions, history as well as clear indication that you have completed the required reading. A journal entry is required for eighteen days of the trip beginning on January 3rd, 2009.
All students are required to attend required course lectures and all guided sightseeing tours.
All students are required to participate in a documentary project and to reflect on their preproduction, production and post production experience in the journal.

  • Travel Journal 40%

  • Classroom Lectures 20%

  • Documentary Production Work 40%

Documentary Production Work - Every student will be expected to participate as a crew member on one of the documentary productions at the Prasad Film & Television Academy. As much as possible, we will try to give you your first choice of topics.

Participation and Attendance - Every student is expected to participate in all lectures, sightseeing trips and production assignments. If you miss lectures and don't show up for any part of the course while in India, this will be grounds for you to be sent back to the U.S. Attendance is required for all programs, lectures, and sightseeing trips

Required Reading:

Butalia, Urvashi THE OTHER SIDE OF SILENCE: VOICES FROM THE PARTITION OF INDIA Penguin Books: 1998 (Also published by Duke University), (BC Bookstore: $23.00)
Huyler, Stephen MEETING GOD Yale University Press
Rabiger, Michael DIRECTING THE DOCUMENTARY (photocopies to be distributed during second orientation program)

Recommended Reading:
Aufderheide, Patricia THE CAMERA AS CONSCIENCE: HOW SOCIAL ISSUES INSPIRE MOVING DOCUMENTARIES Chronicle of Higher Education v.45, n9, October 23, 1998.
The writer Jonah Blank reports on his candid conversations with Indians
from many walks of life, interweaving brief themes from the Ramayana epic
which is well known and revered today. His itinerary follows locations of
major episodes in the epic
(ny: Ballantine, 1991)

Well worth reading prior to the trip.  Elisabeth Bumiller is a journalist, frequently on CNN and other news shows as an invited commentator.   This book is a fascinating and very thorough series of interviews with women throughout India.  It is highly informative and will give you a strong understanding of the lives of women in India - in particular, the women of rural India.

Curran, Sheila, DOCUMENTARY STORYTELLING FOR VIDEO AND FILMMAKERS, Focal Press 2004 A good introductory textbook on the fundamentals of documentary story structure.
Narayan, R. K. THE BACHELOR OF ARTS (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1980)
and/or see any of his additional novels set in the fictive south Indian
village of Malgudi, including THE GUIDE; THE FINANCIAL EXPERT; PAINTER OF
In all of his Chekovian novels, Narayan's lively characters depict
traditional culture and values. All are fun to read.

Garcia, Carol Henderson. CULTURE AND CUSTOMS OF INDIA(Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002)

The author compares numerous aspects of life in India with those of
Western countries. She also covers some topics that are particular to
India, such as wearing saris and understanding the history of the caste
system. While India is composed of hundreds of cultures and languages,
Garcia addresses as broad a range as possible in a travel-sized book.


(Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2006)
Asha Kasbekar discusses what is popular in India today, along with its
social and economic implications


Recommended films to see before leaving for India:

The Apu Trilogy directed by Satyajit Ray, 1959.

Includes 3 titles: Pather Panchali, Aparajito, The World of Apu

Gandhi directed by Richard Attenborough, 1982.

feature film c. 190 minutes
film details:

The Namesake directed by Mira Nair, 2006.

Lagaan directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, 2001

Water directed by Deepa Mehta, 2006.

Born Into Brothels 2004.
A documentary film by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski
Additional films:

Man of Aran, directed by Robert Flaherty

Land Without Bread, directed by Luis Bunuel

Song of Ceylon, directed by Basil Wright

All My Babies, directed by George Stoney

The River directed by Pare Lorentz

Titicut Follies, directed by Fred Wiseman

High School directed by Fred Wiseman

Waiting for Fidel directed by Michael Rubbo

Sad Song of Yellow Skin directed by Michael Rubbo

Have You Killed a Jap Today? directed by U.S. Army

Chronicle of a Summer, directed by Jean Rouch

Drifters, directed by John Grierson

Night Mail, directed by Harry Watt

Power and the Land directed by Joris Ivens

Window Water Baby Moving directed by Stan Brakhage

Olympia I and II directed by Leni Riefenstahl

Man With a Movie Camera, directed by Dziga Vertov

Tarnation directed by Michael Caoutte

Four Little Girls directed by Spike Lee

The Civil War Series directed by Ken Burns

Hoop Dreams directed by Steve James

Bowling For Columbine directed by Michael Moore

Farenheit 911 directed by Michael Moore

Best Boy directed by Ira Wohl

7 Up; 28 Up directed by Michael Apted

Unzipped directed by Douglas Keeve

Grey Gardens directed by the Maysles Brothers

Land of the Deaf, To Be and To Have directed by Nicholas Philibert


Web pages and links:

These links provide important background on cultural and artistic

traditions, social customs and religious practices. Historical summaries
and maps are also included for your reference.

Cultural and social customs

General history of India

Independence movement


Trailer of film "Gandhi"

Gandhi images and archival audio recording of speeches

Encyclopedia Britannica Documentary of Gandhi


Ambedkar, leader of the dalit("untouchable") uplift movement

Indian religions

Introduction to each major religion

Hindu worship practices

(click on "next" to see all pages, and see videos)

Hindu gods and goddesses

Hindu temples

Music and dance of South India




Women's issues and social services

Facts and figures

Maps and demographics

India (states): (click at bottom to view older map; PRINT OUT older map)

major languages: (scroll down to see map)

religious places:

literacy rates:

sex ratios:

population density:



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