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Short Documentary Lab with Rithy Panh

Start date:
Jun 16, 2019
Ability Level:

Making a documentary is much more than simply filming what surrounds us. It can be a way of understanding the world, a tool to make it a better place, and an art form where you can find and express your own voice. This intensive, inspiring lab is designed to introduce participants to the engrossing world of documentary filmmaking.

During this workshop, filmmakers will gain first-hand experience working alongside Oscar-Nominated documentarian Rithy Panh. The world-renowned storyteller will teach participants his method of narration through working with memory, culture, and identity to gain an in-depth understanding of personal traditions, celebrations, community, and the oral history of a country. His teaching techniques build on the foundations of cultural memory to capture fragile moments through film. Participants will be encouraged to find their own narratives that explore the idea of identity and origins by truly living, working, and breathing with their subjects.

In small teams, students will make short documentaries from initial concept to final product during two lab sessions. The first session, lasting 3-weeks, will focus on development and pre-production, and the second 4-week session will entail production, editing and post-production. By the end of the programme, participants will experience the entire process of making a film. Experienced professional mentors will guide participants throughout the filmmaking process, and participants admitted in the program must commit to participating in both sessions.

The goal of the lab is to provide new skills, to discover cinematic language, and to transform students into filmmakers who are ready to change the world and tell their stories.

Application Deadline: May 11, 2019


  • Session 1: 16 June to 6 July, 2019
  • Session 2: 15 September to 15 October, 2019

Please note that participants are expected to attend both sessions, and should apply before the deadline.


Session 1:
Timings will be determined based on the availability of accepted applicants, however, participants must be able to commit at least five hours per day. Proposed timings are 5-10 PM daily on weekdays, full days on weekends.

Session 2:
Full commitment may be required during production and post-production, depending on the project.

Lab Fee: 2,800.00 QAR
Language: English
Group Size: Up to 10 Participants
Level: Intermediate
Applicants should demonstrate some experience in filming and storytelling.

Schedule and Course Description

Session 1: Documentary Filmmaking – Theory & Practice, Development & Pre-Production
16 June to 6 July, 2019 (three weeks)

  • Theoretical discussion and tutorials
    • Looking inside yourself: what do you want to talk about?
    • Looking outside yourself: discovering reality
    • Ethics in documentary filmmaking
    • Overview of the creative process—from idea to the final product
    • The relationship between you and reality during the process
    • The relationship between your goal as a filmmaker and the expected final product
  • Film Screenings and Analysis
  • Development of participants’ documentary proposals
  • Practical training:
    • How to scout for locations and subjects
    • Fundamentals of filming and recording
    • Shot lists, shooting plans
  • Exercise: make a 3-to-5-minute film without editing (the subject will be assigned).
  • Selection of projects to be produced in the second session
    • Formation of production teams. Each participant will work in the team of at least one project as the director, producer, sound recordist, or camera person.
    • Planning for the 2-month period of independent work

Mid-Lab Recess:

  • Free time for participants to work in preproduction, scout locations, and start working with their subjects independently
  • Filming permits are requested
  • No formal group sessions or tutorials are held during this time

Session 2: Filming, Editing, and Post-Production
15 September to 15 October, 2019 (4 weeks)

  • Shooting and analysis of the rushes with the assistance of an editor
  • Editing and Post-production

By the end of the course, students will have created three to five documentary short films, which are screened for the class. As a group, we prepare distribution strategies. Then, based on their personal experience, each student proposes a new idea for another documentary. The lab ends imagining new films and defining the personal style of each student.

Course Introduction by Rithy Panh

“The essential is always threatened by the insignificant,” wrote the poet René Char. In this new era of globalisation, his sentiment now seems to resonate with even more depth. The endless flow of information made possible by digital media brings with it countless benefits, but also contains many irrelevant distractions. Society is changing rapidly; views are changing, and economic development is accelerating. For centuries, since the drawings of the cave of Lescot, humanity has experienced art in two dimensions. Now mankind is entering the epoch of virtual reality, but what do we do with this new and powerful technology? How can we integrate this medium into our art without losing our roots and identity? It is on this reflection that the workshop will be built so that each participant not only discovers the relevant digital techniques, but also learns how to question their narrative in order to stay true to their content.

The secret to authentic documentary filmmaking lies in the approach of the filmmaker, in that they do not seek to make films about people, but with them. This means living with them, doing things with them, listening to them, giving them a voice. Only by working with the protagonists will their films bear true witness to the subject and the changing nature of today. The workshop will develop within participants this ability to look outward from the inside and pay close attention to language. Every culture has its own grace. We must capture these moments now, and perhaps later, when this kind of process has become ingrained, we can build the foundations of a cultural memory. This memory will be especially vivid and meaningful, as it is told by men and women – faithful witnesses of a time. Every community needs to know their roots to help them invent their future together, and this workshop will raise appreciation of the diversity of cultures within each community

Submission Requirements:
Applicants should submit a proposal of no longer than one page for a short documentary film (maximum duration 10 minutes). This proposal can be a simple idea or a theme; it must show the personal resonance and motivation of the student. Projects that have already been developed or filmed are not eligible. Applicants should provide the reasons they want to make the proposed film, and explain why they are the right person to tell the story they have chosen. Selected applicants are welcome to change their idea during the lab—we understand that projects often evolve drastically during the development process.

Please note that submission of materials does not guarantee admission. Applicants will be notified of their acceptance status in a timely manner after the submission deadline passes.

Submission Requirements
Please send the following together as one document (in Word or PDF format) to, including your full name, email and contact number:

  1. A brief letter of intention explaining why you are applying to the lab (maximum one page)
  2. Short documentary film proposal/treatment (maximum one page)
  3. Previous work or artistic portfolio (if applicable)
  4. CV or short biography

This programme is open to citizens and residents of Qatar- applicants are requested to attach a copy of their Qatar ID to their submission.

Selection of Candidate
Candidates whose work shows promise will be shortlisted. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for an interview with the Institute and the lead lab mentor.

Class Participation
The importance of participation in this class cannot be overstated. Students should be prepared for every class and should always have their materials with them for presentation, discussion and in-class workshops, and should be prepared to contribute ideas or ask questions in every session. They should demonstrate the self-discipline, commitment and respect toward others that is necessary for successful creative explorations and film production within a team. They should show initiative, take responsibility for their own work, and be able to solve problems when plans do not turn out as expected.

Lab Mentors

Rithy Panh
Lead Mentor, Documentary Filmmaker

Rithy Panh is a Cambodian-French filmmaker, writer and producer. Born in Cambodia, he studied filmmaking at the Institut des Hautes Études Cinematographiques in France. His work focuses primarily on the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in his homeland. Rooted in first-hand experience, Panh’s works have a rare and striking authority.

He has directed numerous internationally acclaimed films, including ‘The Rice People’, which was selected for the Official Competition of the Festival de Cannes in 1994; ‘The Land of Wandering Souls’ (2000); the influential ‘S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine’ (2004), which took numerous awards around the world; ‘Paper Cannot Wrap Embers’ (2007), ‘The Sea Wall’ (2008) and ‘Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell’ (2012).

He then directed ‘France is our Mother Country’ (2014), ‘Exile’ (Cannes Film Festival 2016), and ‘Graves Without a Name’ (Venice, Telluride, and Toronto Film Festivals 2018). He is also a principal founder of the Cambodian Film Commission, an industry development organisation that includes the CFC Film Lab, a professional film training programme for Cambodians.

Socheat Cheng
Supporting Mentor

Socheat Cheng holds a Bachelor Degree in Information Technology. During his studies, he was always passionate about filmmaking. After his graduation, he got involved in numerous activities in the film industry such as documentary and fiction filmmaking, editing, colour grading, cinematography, camera assistant and visual effects. In addition, he participated in a year-long documentary film training program initiated by Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center. He also worked with many foreign film crews and production companies from France, Korea, and the USA. He recently became an assistant to Mr Rithy Panh and has helped make the films ‘The Missing Pictures’ (2013), ‘Exile’ (2016), ‘Bangskol: A Requiem for Cambodia’ (2017).

Séverin Favriau
Sound Designer Mentor

Séverin Favriau is a sound designer, sound supervisor and music composer. He discovered cinema through his studies at ETPA (AudioVisual School) at Rennes between 1997 and 2000. After 5 years as a sound recordist in various documentaries, he began sound design at 28 years old. His collaboration with Amos Gitaï and Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire gave him a new musical approach of sound design, and today, these two components are present in his work. He was nominated twice for the Best Sound César (French Academy awards) with Mathieu Amalric’s movie ‘On Tour’ in 2011, and ‘Raw’ directed by Julia Ducournau in 2018. As a natural continuation of his work on ‘Raw’, he wrote his first music score for Jeremie Guez’s movie: ‘A Bluebird in my Heart’, selected in the famous SXSW Austin Film Festival. He also teaches regularly at La Fémis, the National French Film School.

In collaboration with: Bophana Center, Cambodia.