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LAVC Rhetorical Analysis Using Documentary Film Essay


Essay 2: Rhetorical Analysis Using Documentary Film

The film will be on…

Purpose Overview:
Everywhere, all the time, you are being persuaded to take sides in some argument. Film is no
exception. Our realities are being shaped constantly by what we see within them. Documentary
film is probably one of the first mediums that come to mind when we think about “recording
reality,” yet it is also one of the most complex formats for chronicling aspects of our world.

For this essay we will be closely reading a short documentary film in order to better understand
how that shaping takes place.

Documentary films use a variety of methods (e.g., images, words, sounds, and various
film techniques) in order to present an argument. This prompt asks you to view a documentary
film and to analyze the rhetorical and persuasive strategies employed by the filmmaker in the
construction of the film’s argument.

Your essay should not be a summary of the film, nor should it be a review based on your
personal opinions on the topic of it. The aim of the assignment is to identify the
filmmaker’s thesis (argument/position – yes, they all have one) and to analyze the
rhetorical strategies, persuasive devices, and film/visual techniques used in order to
develop its idea(s)/achieve its purpose.

1. Identify the main argument and / or purpose of the film (this is somewhat subject to
2. Provide a brief summary of the film for context.
3. Examine the ways in which the aim of the film’s argument is supported through
rhetorical and persuasive strategies (e.g., presentation of facts, dismissing credibility of
counterfactual information, not addressing certain related issues, etc.). What is the
filmmaker’s purpose? What is the argument/thesis of the film (which might be implicit or
explicit)? What assertions/claims are made? Are there fallacies, contradictions, or
inconsistencies? What is the attitude or viewpoint of the filmmaker? What is the tone of
the piece?
4. What rhetorical strategies and cinematic techniques does the filmmaker use to make their
point? How does the structure and the detail elements of the film help achieve its
5. To focus your ideas, make sure to represent the best evidence or claims the film is using
to achieve its purpose. Explain why these seem to be the most persuasive and analyze
how the filmmaker uses them to convince an audience.

Required Sources:

You will choose ONE of the following short documentary films to analyze in your essay

(these are the only films that you may use):
Shelter in Place(…)

Readings from this unit (you need to use at least three in your essay):
Carroll: Backpacks vs Briefcases: Steps Toward Rhetorical Analysis
Nichols: The Question of Evidence, the Power of Rhetoric, and Documentary Film
Schmidt: Where the Truth Lies – or Not
Smith and Rock: Documentary as Statement: Defining an Old Genre in a New Age

Criteria for Success (Your Minimum Requirements):
Length: 3 full pages minimum to 5 full pages maximum
Format: Follow MLA guidelines
You must use on of the short films listed on this prompt
Source Usage: Three sources beyond the primary text (which is the documentary film)
are required. These need to be from the sources you have read during this block/unit
about film and rhetoric (they are listed above and linked on Canvas). If you wish, you can
do additional research on your own, but it is not required.
The paper must include a properly formatted works cited page


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