2 | Cityscapes (Individual Project) | 45%

Cityscapes: Where we live

Housing is a major issue in Hong Kong, especially for young people, as are the areas of the city that are quickly disappearing.

In this assignment you must create an urban self-portrait documentary (as discussed by Alvarez) focusing on where you live or a part of Hong Kong that is disappearing that is personally important to you.

Your short documentaries should highlight something special abut the city and its meaning through your own experiences.


  • To develop reading, synthesising, and analytical skills.
  • To explore the city and its meaning through our personal relationships to the world around us.
  • To learn basic documentary and observational research techniques.

This assignment should be completed individually.

This assignment is made up of three parts: 1) field notes with 5-10 documentary photographs; 2) a 2-5 minute urban self-portrait cell film; and 3) a 10-minute presentation of the finished work.

  • Field notes: 10%
  • Short Documentary: 20%
  • Presentation: 10%

A rubric for each part of the assignment is on our course blog.

Part 1: Field-notes


Observation is an extremely important skill, fundamental to many areas of learning and study.

Visit a space special to you in Hong Kong to observe. This place should either be somewhere that is under threat, invisible, disappearing, or, the place you call home.

Think about the ways in which space was used in the past, and how it is used in the present (in terms of urban transformation, inequality, work, leisure, and politics). Think about ways that space is constructed by the everyday uses and practices of people in the city, as well as by your memories, expectations, and desires.

Think also about what is important to you personally about this space, what meaning does it hold for you? Why is it special? What are your memories of this place? What are your dreams or aspirations for the future as relate to this space? Why is it important?

Take detailed field-notes for a minimum of 30 minutes. You may use a pen and paper, or you may use a computer/tablet. You must find a place to sit, observe what you are seeing, and write what you have observed. Do not worry about grammar or spelling. Your goal is to write what you see. Later, you must type up & clean up these observations (about 500-1000 words), and hand them in.

Chiseri-Strater and Sunstein (1997) have developed a list of what should be included in all field-notes.

Your field notes must include all of the following:

  1. Date, time, and place of observation
  2. Specific facts, numbers, details of what happens at the site
  3. Sensory impressions: sights, sounds, textures, smells, taste
  4. Personal responses to the fact of recording field-notes
  5. Specific words, phrases, summaries of conversations, and insider language
  6. Questions about people or behaviours at the site for future investigation
  7. Page numbers to help keep observations in order

You must also take 5-10 photographs during your observation. These photographs will act as storyboards, or visual note-taking and visual ideas, for what you plan to shoot for your documentary.

Part 2: Urban-Self Portrait Documentaries

Create a 2 – 5 minute short urban self-portrait about your home, or a place that is disappearing which is important to you. The documentary can include elements like: the challenges of urban housing, social issues, personal memories, and/ or the daily lives of your neighbours or family members. This can be the area you explored in your field-notes, or another area.

Focus on one key element for your documentary that best expresses your ‘urban self-portrait’.

As Alvarez discussed, an urban self-portrait can be a socio-political documentary, an essay film, or a self-fiction.

You are expected to upload your finished cell films to your blog through a link on Youtube or Vimeo, e-mail the link to Shannon through Canvas, and provide a 100-200-word description of the documentary.

You must make the video on a cellphone, but you may edit on a computer if you choose to. However, editing is not required. You may also add music or a voice over narration, but again, it is not required. We will watch all of the films in class during the in-class presentations (see part 3).


  • Your film must be shot on a cellphone, but it can be edited on a computer. You can shoot the whole thing in one shot (using a pause button), or you can use multiple takes, or make stop motion animation, etc. Think about voice over narration, music or text you want to use. There are some free apps that can help with in-phone editing, such as Cameo; Magisto; Stop Motion, etc.
  • Your urban self-portrait must be at least 2 minutes long, and can be no longer than 5 minutes in length.

Part 3: In-Class Presentation

Your 10-minute in-class presentation is meant to give you an opportunity to show your work to your colleagues, and to present your ideas in a professional manner. Your in-class presentation must include:

  • An introduction to the space that you explored (Where was it? Why did you choose this space?)
  • Reflections on the field-notes process (What was it like? How did you feel?)
  • Showing and explaining your 5-10 documentary images (from the field-notes experience).
  • A brief explanation of your documentary, followed by a screening.

Due Date: 

November 18, 2015


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