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Directing Documentary

Course Description

The NFTS has a tradition of enabling documentary filmmakers to find a distinctive voice that both prepares them for the Industry and makes their work a force for changing it.

Quick Facts:

2 Year Course
Course runs Jan-Dec each year
Next intake: January 2017
NFTS Scholarships available for UK Students

Visit the website https://nfts.co.uk/our-courses/masters/directing-documentary

TO APPLY CONTACT REGISTRY - https://nfts.co.uk/contact-us


- Develop a personal voice.
- Put storytelling at the centre of your process.
- Study in a multi-disciplinary filmmaking environment.
- Shoot on digital formats.
- Unlike other schools, all production costs are met by the School.

This course commences in January each year. The goal of the course is to give our graduates the tools and the confidence to become successful members of the international documentary community. Our students have won the Grierson and Sheffield Student Awards two years running, IDFA and the Royal Television Society last year, and win prizes at the most prestigious festivals round the world: Sundance, IDFA, Hot Docs, Berlin, Sheffield and many others. The most important thing, however, is to prepare them for life as committed documentary storytellers, wherever that may lead.

In the UK, getting a first commission can be a daunting task but last year, for example, Marc Williamson, made a First Cut for Channel 4 from his Sheffield student award winning graduation film which this year won him the Grierson Prize for Best Newcomer. Some use the contacts they make in the last phase of the course, to put together deals with TV production companies and non-TV source as Sam Blair did with Adidas for his brilliant feature debut about sprinters, Personal Best. Since students direct and shoot five films in different genres during the course, many progress swiftly by using their unique skills to contribute to productions throughout the industry, like James Newton who won a Grierson last year as one of the directors of The Year the Town Hall Shrank .


Some of the UK's leading Documentary makers teach at the School, including internationally acclaimed directors Kim Longinotto, Sean McAllister, Asher Tlalim, Nick Broomfield, vastly experienced producer/directors Riete Oord, Ros Franey, award-winning cinematographer Roger Chapman, Rory Peck award winner Rodrigo Vazquez, the founder of Dochouse, Elizabeth Wood, Exec Producer of The Act of Killing, Andre Singer, and successful younger alumni like Lara Agnew, Sandhya Suri, Simon Chambers and Dan Vernon .

The department is led by Dick Fontaine who has directed over forty films for television and the independent media, has recently had retrospectives in New York, Paris, Barcelona and Sao Paulo and was nominated last year for a Grierson Award for his latest film.


Graduates include Nick Broomfield who pioneered a powerful new genre in documentary: the filmmaker-as- provocateur (The Leader, the Driver and the Driver’s Wife, Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer,and, most recently, Tales from the Grim Sleeper), Grierson Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Molly Dineen (Home from the Hill, The Lie of the Land), Kim Longinotto, whose inspirational films about women are celebrated at festivals around the world (Divorce Iranian–Style, Sisters in Law, and her new film Dreamcatcher), and Sundance winner Sean McAllister (The Liberace of Baghdad, The Reluctant Revolutionary) and many others who are making striking contributions in documentary on many different platforms.



Built around a series of four practical exercises, increasing in length and complexity, informed and inspired by relevant traditions. Each exercise isolates and focuses on the techniques and content of a specific documentary genre: observation, character–led narrative, image/sound poetry and investigation. Students collaborate in various combinations with editors, cinematographers, sound designers and composers and also work alone using digital video equipment.


Includes three projects: a graduation film in which students synthesise what they have discovered in the first year, and use it to confidently challenge conventional approaches to documentary: an MA dissertation in which they reflect on a practical question that has intrigued them during the course so far and a proposal/taster tape for a project to take into the professional arena.

The final stage consists of visits to film festivals, broadcasters, independent producers and other relevant institutions, together with seminars dealing with the commissioning process, legal requirements, finance and festival potential.

Unlike other schools, all production costs are met by the School including an above-the-line cash production budget. NFTS students are engaged in more productions as part of the curriculum than any of our competitors.


Students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have usually had some previous experience of filmmaking, though this may not be at a professional level. All have a strong social awareness and a keen desire to translate that awareness into stories told with a personal voice.


- A 20-minute film, conceived and directed by the applicant (on DVD). Please note: if you wish to submit a longer film, only the first 20 minutes will be viewed. If the dialogue is not in English, you should enclose a dialogue transcript in English.


- A narrative photo essay consisting of 10 20cm x 25cm stills.


- A written proposal for a different film of any specified length (on no more than 4 sides of A4, typed and double-spaced) which should include the basic premise, a description of the characters and locations and, most importantly, the developing narrative.

Visit the Directing Documentary page on the National Film & Television School website for more details!

All Available Videos:

(Student Profile)

Kim Longinotto

4020.jpg 1979 graduate, and director of documentaries Rough Aunties, Sisters in Law, The Day I Will Never Forget.

(Student Profile)

Selah Hennessy

Documentary Graduate 2016, in an interview about her film The Pacemaker

"The course was awesome. The best thing about it is the collaborations with other students"

(Student Profile)

Marc Williamson

Won a 2015 BAFTA for his documentary Last Chance School based on his Graduation film


NFTS Scholarships - No. of awards TBC

All long term resident UK students, once they are offered a place on the MA programme, are invited to apply for an NFTS funding award. Awards may consist of either a bursary or a scholarship or a combination of both. NFTS Scholarships are donated by individuals or organisations with a direct involvement in the film, games and television industries. They often include a mentorship and an individual donor may take in interest in your work. Therefore they have an added prestige.The NFTS funding awards contribute directly to tuition fees and may be between £1,000 and £10,000. They are not re-payable by the student. They are only available to UK permanent residents although there is also currently one small scholarship available annually to a French-speaking student.

Value of Scholarship(s)



They are only available to UK permanent residents although there is also currently one small scholarship available annually to a French-speaking student.

Application Procedure

Students are invited to apply in both of the two years of the course. Some scholarships are intended to be for a particular specialisation, for female students, or awarded on ethnicity or according to the UK region of an applicant.

Further Information



The Toledo Scholarship - No. of awards TBC

Applications are treated confidentially and are means tested. The school reserves the right to ask an applicant to provide proof of his/her financial circumstances and of possible family support. The Assistant Registrar must be notified immediately of any change in an applicant’s financial circumstances. Careful consideration is given by the Scholarship Panel with a view to responding to demonstrated financial need. Funds are limited and students are asked to estimate responsibly how much assistance they think they will need as this affects the School’s ability to accommodate students in serious need.Unfortunately, we are unable to open this scheme to EU or International students, or to students on the Diploma programmes. There are some course specific scholarship opportunities available to Diploma students. Please check the latest situation on the NFTS website course pages. There may not be enough scholarships available to allow the school to give one to all applicants. Therefore it may be necessary for you to make alternative arrangements for your tuition fees and maintenance. All students offered a place are provided with guidelines for applying for independent funding. This information is distributed during the summer. NFTS funding applications are received in September and the Scholarship Panel meets in October to decide the awards for the following year. Decisions are announced shortly afterwards.

Value of Scholarship(s)

See the website


The Toledo Scholarship is an NFTS scholarship specifically intended to enable talented newcomers from the UK’s ethnic minorities to fast-track their ambitions and join the British film industry.

Application Procedure

Application is made in the same way as all other NFTS scholarships but candidates will need to identify themselves as an UK ethnic minority candidate in order to be considered automatically.

Further Information



BAFTA Scholarship - No. of awards TBC

The BAFTA Scholarship Programme assists talented individuals in need of financial support. A BAFTA scholarship can help you afford an NFTS course in 2016 or 2017. Recipients will receive:
- Up to £10,000 to cover their course fees
- An Industry mentor
- Free access to BAFTA events around the UKUK students who have worked in the industry for at least two years may qualify for assistance from the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund. Students with relevant experience who have been offered a place on a course should apply direct to the CTBF. There is also an opportunity to apply early and directly for a BAFTA scholarship before your application has been completed. UK applicants should look out for the BAFTA scholarship announcement on their website.Some of the remaining UK Regional Screen Agencies offer scholarships to students from within their region. Some are arranged through the School as NFTS Scholarships, while others must be applied for direct, in competition with students at other institutions.

Value of Scholarship(s)

Up to £10,000


Eligible courses are listed on the website.

Application Procedure

The deadline for applications is Friday 17 June 2016. You can apply to BAFTA before you are offered an NFTS place.

Further Information


Entry Requirements

Students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have usually had some previous experience of filmmaking, though this may not be at a professional level. All have a strong social awareness and a keen desire to translate that awareness into stories told with a personal voice.

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Recipient: National Film & Television School
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