International School History - European Schools - S5 - Napoleonic France

S5 History Last update - 18 May 2023 Official European School History 4-5 Syllabus: English, French, German.
Unit 4 - Napoleonic France - Napoleonic France - Napoleon Hero or Villain? Documentary film making activity

We have spent a lot of time this year looking at documentary films and how they are used to tell stories about the past. We have examined documentary techniques and in this earlier activity on the Reformation, we compared and contrasted history and documentary film making.

In this activity, you are going to make your own short documentary film about the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. At the very beginning of this unit you were divided into pairs. Consequently you will be producing a film that either portrays Napoleon in a positive light as a hero, or in a negative light as a villain.

This activity is designed to focus on one of the main characteristics of history documentary, that distinguishes it from the study of history. History documentary tends to present a simplified, one-sided interpretation of the past, that does not allow for competing, alternative viewpoints. In contrast, history does not provide single stories about the past, but rather, recognises that the past can be interpreted in lots of different ways.

In this activity you are not going to produce good history. You are not to produce a balanced account. You are going to produce an account that is deliberately one-sided.

The activity

1. You begin by planning the four sections of your film. For each of these sections you must find good, accurate historical evidence that will support your positive or negative view of Napoleon. It is very important that your film is historically accurate; that nothing is made up or untrue.

2. Next, consider how the following four sources will be used in your film. You can use as many additional sources as you like, but you must use the following four: a painting and three short film clips.

This is David's famous painting of Napoleon crossing the Alps that we analyzed in class.

For the film you will need a bigger version. Click on the picture or this link.

These are the thee video clips taken from different points of Napoleon's career.

You need to download the file from Vimeo, import and edit it in your film.

Each of three films must appear in the film but you are allowed to edit and shorten them.

You can download a MovieMaker friendly version of the film here.


3. Writing the narrative is the most important part of your film. It must be carefully timed so as not to exceed the four minute limit and it must also allow for silence as the audience considers the visual images.

4. Once the narrative is written and timed, the remaining images need to be researched and included. You may also consider including actuality footage of yourself or friends.

5. Once you have recorded your narration and combined all your images, then it is time to add some incidental music to help set the appropriate emotional tone.

6. Remember that the film is not finished until you have 'made' or rendered your film in a format that can play on someone else's computer.

Looking for inspiration for other documentary film techniques?




About I Contact Richard Jones-Nerzic