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Study Guide

Central Park Five

The Story | People | Artists | Art Forms | Enrichment Activities


A social-issue documentary exposes and investigates a specific angle of a social issue, and aims to spark the viewer into action.

When watching a documentary, it is important to remember that:

    • documentaries represent reality, they don't just record it
    • all documentaries are constructed
    • the act of representation and construction involves many choices, such as determining a point-of-view, selecting which information to include or exclude, and deciding how to present the information
    • everyone's experience of a documentary is unique and is influenced by the personal lens through which they view it[/more]

Documentary film has its own creative language and selection of tools that are used to persuade the viewer and tell the story.

Visual Tools

Camera Shots
Establishing Shot / Long Shot: the subject of the shot is shown with full background, providing context and setting.
Medium Shot: the subject of the shot is shown from the waist up, providing some background context.
Close-up: the camera zooms in on one particular object, filling the frame and limiting the viewer's field of vision.
Extreme Close-up: a dramatic shot of a part of the subject or character that shows and emphasizes extreme detail.

Camera Angles
High Angle: the camera is above the subject; has the effect of making the subject look smaller than normal—trapped, powerless, and weak.
Low Angle: camera shoots the subject from below; has the effect of making the subject look larger than normal—strong, powerful, and threatening.
Eye Level: camera is even with the character's eyes.

Expert Activity
Have students take photographs composing the images according to the shots and angles listed above. Then watch the first 10 minutes of a film in class and identify these camera shots and angles in action. As a class, discuss why a director might choose to use specific shots and angles in a documentary to tell their story.

Audio Tools

Diegetic Sound: sound whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film (i.e. voices of the characters, sounds made by objects in the story, music coming from instruments or audio devices as represented in the space).

Music: vocal, instrumental, ambient, or atmospheric sound used to create or underscore a mood.

Voice over: narration, dialogue, interview responses, or any spoken text which you hear over visual images that may or may not correspond directly to what appears in the visual track. Also, speaking that is either recorded separately in a studio or extracted from raw footage and then integrated during the editing process.

Sound Effects: live or computerized sounds that are integrated during the editing process.

Expert Activity
Have students watch the trailer for The Central Park Five twice, once with the volume turned off, and then immediately after that with the volume up while taking notes of all the different audio elements they hear. As a class, discuss the impact the sound has on the viewer's experience.

View additional documentary tools and information on the BAM Freedom Summer online curriculum site. [/more]