Spring 2025

Films That Try: Essay Film Production

Listed in: Art and the History of Art, as ARHA-444  |  Film and Media Studies, as FAMS-412


Adam R. Levine (Section 01)


(Offered as ARHA 444 and FAMS 412) Essay filmmaking is a dynamic form with many commonly cited attributes—the presence of an authorial voice, an emphasis on broad themes, an eclectic approach to genre, and the tendency to digress or draw unexpected connections. Yet, true to its nature, the precise definition of the essay film is in constant flux. It can be both personal and political, individual and collective, noble and mischievous. Essay filmmakers themselves are equally diverse, ranging from established film auteurs to Third Cinema activists and contemporary video artists.

If we entertain the notion that the processes of cinema closely resemble the mechanics of human thought, then the essay film may be the medium’s purest expression. To watch or make such a film, we must give ourselves over to a compulsive, restless energy that delights in chasing a subject down any number of rabbit holes and blind alleys, often stopping to admire the scenery on the way. As with thought, there is no end product, no clear boundaries, no goal but the activity itself.

The term "essay" finds its origins in the French essayer, meaning “to attempt” or to try.” In this advanced production workshop, we will read, screen and discuss examples of the essayistic mode in literature and cinema while making several such attempts of our own. Students will complete a series of writing assignments and video projects informed by class materials and group discussion.

Limited to 12 students. Spring 2025: Professor Levine.

Requisite: One 200-level production course or relevant experience (to be discussed with the instructor in advance of the first class). 

How to handle overenrollment: Priority to FAMS and ARHA majors, then to a balance of other majors

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Emphasis on artistic practice, personal writing, group critique, critical readings and film screenings.

Course Materials


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Spring 2025