International School History - European Schools - S7 4hr option

S7 History Last update - 09 November 2017 Official European School History S6 Syllabus: English, French, German

Cold War Documentary Film-Making Activity


  1. To make a short (5 minute maximum) documentary about the origins of the Cold War.
  2. The documentary must be firmly rooted in one of two historiographical traditions: Orthodox or Revisionist.
  3. The documentary must use certain prescribed film-making techniques and four prescribed pieces of archive film footage.
  4. Students will work in groups of 3 or 4 to produce the content and edit of the film.

We begin this activity by viewing a careful selection of different documentaries, with the purpose of identifying different documentary film-making techniques: voice-over, talking heads, interviews with historian, dramatic reconstruction, archive footage, animated graphics, mood music, etc.

Example 1

My initial stimulus material is a 'rare archive film' of Hitler in New York after his initial successes during WWII. 

What are the key techniques use by the film makers in this scene?

Example 2 - Ireland: A Television History below

How many different documentary techniques have been used? The narrator is largely unseen, why is this important? The archive footage is hardly commented on, but what meaning does it convey?

Ireland - A Television History Bob Ferguson's interpretation

Example 3 - Stalin and the USSR

  How many techniques are used in this clip?

Why are historians important participants?

Why do you think they agree to be filmed?

Why donít they film historians in a studio?

Why is the graphic a powerful visual aid? Is it reliable?

How do the historians contributions compare or contrast to what they might have written about events they describe?

Example 4 - The assassination of Franz Ferdinand

  In what ways is it different to the earlier 1980 documentary you saw about Ireland?

Why is it different?

What techniques have they borrowed from Hollywood cinema?

Is this still a documentary?

If it is a documentary, then what is the difference between cinema with an historical theme and historical documentary?

Activity requirements.

Your documentary will include the following film making techniques: Exposition, Voice-of-God commentary and/or on screen dialogue, Expert historian(s) with appropriate contextual signifiers Archive images Four prescribed film clips edited as appropriate In addition the film may also include a dramatic reconstruction element and/or music.

As the exposition is perhaps an unfamiliar aspect of the film-making process, you should complete this activity in your groups before you begin.

Prescribed archive films
Join the Vimeo website to be able to download these for editing.

Potsdam Eastern Europe Iron Curtain Marshall Aid

Student Films
Work from IB history students at the British International School of Bratislava

(Above) Navigate through more student made documentaries on the Cold War



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