Category: Exam Preparation


What might I be asked in the exam?

Here is a list of all the questions that have ever cropped up for Spectatorship & Documentary.

What are these questions about?

In pairs you should go through and see if you can spot any repetition / trends in questions that have arisen in previous years.

Alongside each question try to summarise what it is asking you about.

OK – where do I start?

You should then pick 4 different questions and complete 5 minutes plans for each.

You could do this as a mind map for example.

When planning –

  • start with your significance – what are the points that you want to make (aim for 4 different ideas). (S)
  • then think What examples would be great to back that idea up? 2 per point would be great (E)
  • then – what terms can I use in this example and what meaning is being communicated to the audience. (T/A)
  • and finally – how can I link this idea and analysis back to my initial point in the paragraph & the question as a whole. (Q)

You should then pick one of these to plan more thoroughly for a timed essay on Thursday 10th May. Which you will complete without notes!


Task 1: Why are documentaries made?

  • Why do audiences watch films?
  • Why do they watch documentary films?
  • What does an audience seek from a documentary film?

Task 2: What are the key issues we are faced with when watching documentaries? 

Discuss the key issues as a class and consider how you could debate these in an exam essay. Put your ideas on a post it note & stick to the board.

In small groups develop a hand made poster to consider how the following macro ideas create issues for the spectator in a documentary film. Particularly reflect on ideas of truth & persuasion or the trust in the documentary film maker. Remember to add any macro terms you use to your glossary.

Try to think of those ‘so what’s’ those ‘points’ those elements of ‘significance’ rather than considering the specific examples at this stage. What questions would you ask about these macro elements? What challenges do they present for an audience?

The pre reading post of helpful articles & videos may help you with some of the overarching ideas.

Task 3: What are the different ways in which the audience might be positioned with a documentary film? 

Consider the idea of the ‘present’/ ‘distant’ positioning and how Imposter / Grizzly Man fit into these. Add these terms to your glossary

Spectatorship Revision


  • How far is the spectator challenged by issues of manipulation in documentary film? Refer to the films you have studied for this topic.
  • ‘The complexity of spectator response suggests that documentary offers much more than just a window on some aspect of our world.’ Discuss this statement with reference to the films you have studied for this topic.

My definition:

Spectatorship refers to the dynamic relationship between the active audience, who have expectations that include: generic features, narrative & character development, themes and emotional catharsis, and the film (maker) which can exploit, develop or subvert those expectations through use of macro and micro feature. Thus the meaning of a film is fluid, complex, dynamic and formed in the active reading of the text by the spectator.


Essays from past papers:

  • Discuss the significance of cinematography and sound in shaping the response of the spectator to the documentary films you have studied for this topic.
  • With reference to the films you have studied for this topic, how far can it be said that different kinds of documentaries offer different kinds of spectator experiences?



  • How far can it be said that narrative is key to the documentary spectator’s engagement with a  film’s themes and ideas?
  • How far is it preferable as a spectator to be presented with a documentary that offers a very definite point of view towards its subject? Refer to the films you have studied for this topic.

Worksheet for Narrative Analysis


  • ‘Documentaries make different requirements of the spectator compared with fiction films.’ With reference to the films you have studied for this topic, how far do you agree with this statement?
  • ‘The best documentaries are those which are aware of the need to engage spectators cinematically.’ How far do you agree with this statement?

Worksheet for Textual Analysis


  • ‘For the spectator, identification with certain characters is crucial to the viewing experience of documentary films.’ With reference to the films you have studied for this topic, how far do you agree with this view?
  • How far are documentaries more challenging to the spectator because they appear to represent real life characters and situations?

Our textual analysis notes on characters at key moments in The Imposter.

Wider Reading / Research:

On documentary conventions and truth.

On documentary conventions

On Modes of Documentary

Our summary of the key points from key article / videos

World Cinema Revision


A typical question which comes up in the exam is something like:

Discuss how far the ‘look’ created by cinematography and editing contributes to the impact of the films you have studied for this topic.

‘To find an international audience, films about local and particular problems need to use mainstream techniques such as those associated with Hollywood cinema.’ How far do you agree with this statement in relation to the films you have studied for this topic?

In fact this type of question did not come up last year and so is a good one to revise as it may be on the paper this year.

In a question like this you need to discuss your understanding of the cinematic features of Italian Neo Realism and Cinema Novo.

Here are the posters we made on those two topics.


Another question type (that also wasn’t in last year’s paper) is something like this:

How far have your contextual studies been important in understanding the specific urban locations and life experiences represented in the films you have studied for this topic?

How far should the films you have studied for this topic be seen in relation to their particular time and place?

Here you will have to be able to talk about 3-4 political, historical, social or artist contexts which you have researched and which have helped you understand the films. Here are the revision slideshows we worked on in class:

Additionally here are some mind maps that develop ideas about some of the key contexts in The Bicycle Thieves and City of God.

Contexts Folder 


Another question, which crops up regularly is something like this:

Explore how stylistic choices contribute to the representation of the urban experience in the films you have studied for this topic.

What is the importance of cinematography and/or editing in communicating issues of power, poverty and conflict in the films you have studied for this topic?

These essays require you to have a really good knowledge of the specific micro techniques that the directors use to communicate their themes (messages and values).

Here are the micro analysis we did for key scenes – here is a link to the textual analysis form we used.

Bicycle Thieves Analysis

City of God Analysis


Here is a worksheet on narrative which explains it more precisely.

Past Paper Essays and Notes

Below are notes on the exam questions, links to examiners reports & past papers

Spec Notes

This is a list of the revision tasks / activities that we agreed.

Revision Topics

It’s a lot of work, but should be done for independent study and for revision over the next few week. Don’t look at this document if you don’t start revising until the week before the exam – it will just panic you even more!