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The curriculum requirements for the MFA degree is 18 course units over a period of six semesters (2 years) and the completion of a Master's Project/Thesis Production.

A core sequence of four required Production courses is supported by two required Documentary Studies courses, two Project Development Seminars, and two Master's Project development courses, to be completed by the end of a student's sixth term. A course in Research Methods, an Interdisciplinary Elective, and a Theory Elective round out the curricular structure. 

Year One

Fall Term

DM8102 - Documentary Studies I

DM8215 - Fundamentals of Media I

One FCAD Elective


Winter Term

DM8103 - Documentary Studies II

DM8108 - Documentary Research Methods

DM8216 - Fundamentals of Media II

DM8225 - Master's Project Development I

Spring/Summer Term

DM8226 - Master's Project Development II




Year Two

Fall Term

DM8235 - Master's Project Production I

DM8905 - Master Class Seminar

One Advanced Theory Elective


Winter Term

DM8236 -  Master's Project Production II

DM8905 - Master Class Seminar



Spring/Summer Term

Doc Now

MFA Exam



Course Descriptions

Required Courses


DM8102: Documentary Studies I

The first in a two-course sequence in the traditions, methods and applications of documentary forms, this course will instruct students in the fundamental principles of authorship and creation of documentary artifacts.  Emphasis will be placed on the history of the documentary approach, applied subject research, the development of structure, and image-capture techniques and applications.  The course will be supplemented with a required series of screenings, exhibitions and visiting artist lectures; these activities will provide a social and cultural context for understanding the many roles undertaken or assumed by documentary media in defining the present era.


DM8215: Fundamentals of Media I

This is the first in a series of production courses designed to overview the fundamental elements of visual media. The emphasis is on creating a relationship between formal and compositional elements of images and their content. Theoretical ideas are placed against a practical context of production methods and techniques including still image making, motion picture, and new media approaches. Antirequisite: DM8105


One FCAD Elective (choices differ each year):

CD8351:  Documentary As Oppositional Practice: Identity, Power, Difference, and Representation

This course will focus on contemporary documentary practices and aesthetic strategies employed by Indigenous, racialized, feminist and LGBT media artists and filmmakers to communicate alternate discourses and diverse perspectives. Drawing upon feminist studies, queer studies, and critical race studies, it will examine the ways in which visual documentary media have been effectively deployed to address issues of identity, power, difference and representation.


CD8320:  Media Language: Forms, Approaches

This interdisciplinary course will investigate both common elements (visual and auditory narratives, methods of presentation/distribution, cultural roles) and specific attributes (individual characteristics and technologies) of contemporary media forms. Key developments in the evolution of media types and media languages will be explored in the larger context of understanding critical and theoretical issues associated with these forms and languages.


CD8330: Audiences and the Public

The course addresses the challenges concerning value creation and the effective design and delivery of media/mediated products and services from the perspective of the audience. The course brings an interdisciplinary conceptual framework to bear on contemporary media and mediated consumption to investigate five principal ways of audiencing (citizen, spectator, customer, user and player) as well as the new audience sociability and several key issues around managing it: metrics, presumption, fans, transmedia, and business models.


CD8340:  Media Writing: Critical and Narrative Forms

This course will explore issues of form, expression and viewpoint in writing for contemporary visual arts and media. The emphasis will be on essays and critical studies, but writing of summaries, proposals and analyses will also be covered. Traditions of literary and arts criticism form a basis for study of contemporary writing practices for both print and screen-based media.


CD8350:  Socially Engaged Media

Bringing together masters students in Social Work and Documentary Media, this research/creation seminar explores socially engaged practices which privilege collaboration and social interaction in an interdisciplinary dialogue. These practices adopt and borrow from such disciplines as pedagogy, theatre, ethnography, anthropology, art and social work. Through praxis we will explore common  methodological problems faced by researchers and practitioners in relation to their subjects and communities.

Required Courses


DM8103:  Documentary Studies II

This is the second course in a two-course sequence in which students gain an understanding of the traditions, methods, strategies and theories of documentary media. Recent theoretical debates and critical writing on documentary media will be used to contextualize documentary practice and to open questions concerning documentary truth and meaning; documentary disclosure and doubt; representation and reality; the ethical treatment of subjects and the emergence of new media forms. The screenings, exhibitions and lectures associated with Documentary Studies I will continue into the second term of the program as a requirement for this course.


DM8108:  Documentary Research Methods

Students are introduced to the research methods used in documentary practices such as the interview, sensory ethnography, and Indigenous research methodologies. The course familiarizes students with the research and information gathering process, with the use of the library and the archive, online research, and creative research strategies. The course also provides an introduction to project design and the writing of research proposals.


DM8216:  Fundamentals of Media II

This course will continue with an overview of the fundamental tools of image making at an intermediate level. The relationships between documentary, representation, and construction are explored further and include a refinement of methods and techniques introduced in the first production course. Antirequisite: DM8104


DM8225:  Master's Project Development I

This course is the first in a sequence of seminars designed to assist students in conceiving, articulating and producing their final projects. The course will explore documentary practice in relation to student project objectives, focusing on the principal stages in documentary production, including: planning, research, timelines, budgets, shooting, sequencing, editing and finishing. Critical, creative and production strategies will be examined in a variety of production contexts. Antirequisite: DM8101

Required Courses


DM8226:  Master's Project Development II

This is an advanced production course that focuses on specific methods and techniques of editing images, motion picture, sound, or interactive experimental approaches in contemporary documentary-based practice. Various production and post-production strategies are reviewed. This is a hands-on course designed to prepare for graduate fieldwork and production of the MFA project. Antirequisite: DM8106

Required Courses


DM8235:  Master’s Project Production I

This is the first in two sequential courses focused on the production phase of the final Milestone requirement in the MFA, the Major Research Project. Antirequisite: DM8901 


DM8905:  Master Class Seminar

The Master Class Seminar provides students with an opportunity to learn from outstanding professionals working in documentary media including film, new media and photography. Each class features one guest who brings their personal experience into an intimate, hands-on discussion on subjects such as photography, cinematography, directing, editing, digital imaging and interactive and installation work.


One Advanced Theory Elective (choices differ each year)


DM8301: Advanced Topics in Documentary Media

Documentary work can be understood in terms of an aesthetic and philosophical engagement with the ever-changing epistemological status of the form itself. What started out as a response to fiction or an adjunct to the dominant form now seems to have merged, in the audience’s eyes at least, into some sort of hybrid, postmodern comment on reality. This course will undertake a study of documentary’s truth claims in the 21st century. Informing this survey of contemporary works will be the seminal theoretical works that have mapped out the precarious philosophical terrain the form insists on cultivating. 


DM8302: The Culture of the Avant-Garde: Modernity’s Discontents

This course explores the discontent that members of vanguard artistic movements of the 20th century harbored relative to the culture of modernity, and examines the different forms that this discontent (or protest) assumed in Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, Lettrism and Situationism. The course examines both key documents in cultural theory and the manifestos issued by various groups, and is concerned particularly with artists who attempted to forge a link between political revolution and a revolution in consciousness. The role the cinema played in all these artistic movements is given special consideration, as is the re-contextualization of this work as a document of its own culture and time.


DM8303: History and Historiography: Critical Studies in the Visual Arts

A directed reading, seminar course examining recent developments in historical and critical studies across all media, with an emphasis on investigating developments in the fields of cultural studies which utilize contemporary visual media as primary source material. The ever-expanding literature related to documentary forms and practices, as well as the changing historical roles of these forms, will be another essential subject of investigation.


DM8304: Digital Media: Towards a Theoretical Framework

As digital media evolve, critical theory struggles to either keep pace or develop unifying-field theoretical constructs. This course looks at critical writings on digital media, with a particular focus on publications and on-line sources from the last decade. Relations between developments in critical theory and the rapid evolution of the technologies of digital media are actively tracked throughout the course; as are ways in which digital media aggregate to form new collections of digital documents. 


DM8305: Databases, Archives and the Virtual Experience of Art

Visual information takes on different forms in the digital realm, and multifaceted databases accumulate more and more of this information. Our perceptual and social understandings of images -- even our cultural identities and memories -- are increasingly stored in systems through which only reproductions and virtual images can be retrieved. This course examines the larger implications of this phenomenon for image makers as well as for societies and cultures.


DM8306: Enabling Technologies and the Illusions of Knowledge: Studies in Culture and Perception

This course looks at ways in which enabling technologies increase the malleability of visual records and visual documents. Image politics, culture wars and new forms of propaganda are critically examined in this context, as are these issues in relation to the larger issues of accuracy in representation and the verifiability of virtual documents.


DM8307: Mirror, Prosthesis, Storage Device: Representational Media and Epistemologies

What are media and how do they shape and contain knowledge? This course critically engages with a history of ideas about the nature of the document. Students will work through a body of philosophical and theoretical writings from the ancient and contemporary worlds that consider media as mirror to nature, as prostheses or extension of the human body, as storage device, and as communication system, in conjunction with examples drawn from art, literature, photography, film, and new media.


DM8308: Activist and Social Change Documentary

A historical, textual, and thematic look at the culture and philosophy of activist and social change documentary, via a range of genres and approaches – ethnographic, essay-style, social realist, poetic, experimental, labour, feminist, and others. We will look critically at early forms of social realism, ethnography and verite and the emergence of self-reflexive forms of political documentary. The contemporary rise in popularity of political documentary, and its migration to digital platforms will also be examined.


DM8309: Directed Studies: Advanced Theory

Individual directed study of subject areas in Documentary Studies: Advanced Theory not addressed in the current curriculum will be carried out under the supervision of a faculty member. A program of supervised, advanced study related to the student’s area of concentration will be negotiated on an individual basis with the supervising faculty member.


DM8310: Directed Studies: Communication and Design

Individual directed study of subject areas in Documentary Studies: Communication & Design not addressed in the current curriculum will be carried out under the supervision of a faculty member. A program of supervised, advanced study related to the student’s area of concentration will be negotiated on an individual basis with the supervising faculty member.

Required Courses


DM8236:  Master’s Project Production II

This is the production phase of the final course requirement in the MFA curriculum, the Master’s Project. 


DM8905:  Master Class Seminar

The Master Class Seminar provides students with an opportunity to learn from outstanding professionals working in documentary media including film, new media and photography. Each class features one guest who brings their personal experience into an intimate, hands-on discussion on subjects such as photography, cinematography, directing, editing, digital imaging and interactive and installation work.


Doc Now

The Festival celebrates the work of established and emerging documentary practitioners from Ryerson University’s Master of Fine Arts program in Documentary Media.


MFA Exam

Professional Project or Major Research Paper (Milestone) presentation and Major Research Paper/Project (MRP) defense.