Directing Documentary



BBC Documentaries

This course aims to give students the tools and the confidence to become successful documentary makers. We put storytelling at the centre of the filmmaking process, while at the same time encouraging each student to experiment and develop their personal voice.

Head of Department Peter Dale won a 2019 BAFTA for his work on Louis Theroux: Altered States.

Our students are regularly nominated for, and win, prestigious prizes around the world. In recent years they have been consistent winners at the Grierson Awards, as well Sheffield DocFest, BAFTA, Student Academy Awards, Royal Television Society, Hot Docs, Poitiers and many others.

Students collaborate with students in other specialisms to make several films and participate in practical projects, developing the vital skills of both directing and collaboration. All production costs are met by the School.

All NFTS students can attend Masterclasses. Recent guests include David Fincher (Fight Club), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave), Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), Ben Wheatley (Free Fire), Rapman (Blue Story), Louis Theroux, Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone), Denis Villeneuve (Bladerunner 2049), Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here), Sam Mendes (1917), Asif Kapadia (Senna), Joanna Hogg (The Souvenir), Russell T Davies (Doctor Who) and Alex Gibney (Citizen K).

This course is industry recognised by ScreenSkills, the industry-led skills body for the UK's screen-based industries, and carries the ScreenSkills Select quality-mark which indicates courses best suited to prepare students for a career in the screen industries.

Recent credits and successes

Tease - Best Student Documentary award

2021 Directing Documentary graduation film Tease, directed by Jessica Brady, was awarded All3Media Best Student Documentary at the Grierson Awards, the 5th successive win for NFTS. Judges commended "the intelligently crafted narrative, clever use of graphics and skillful editing supporting this well rounded personal exploration project".

Ghada Eldemellawy

NFTS 2021 BAFTA Nominee Spotlight: Find out more about 2020 Directing Documentary graduate Ghada Eldemellawy on her incredible journey from NFTS student to a BAFTA nominated documentary director for graduation film, Miss Curvy. Read more

Lyttanya Shannon

2015 graduate Lyttanya Shannon was named as one of 2021's BAFTA Breakthrough participants. Her credits include Subnormal: A British Scandal, BBC2's Hospital and Death by Delivery.

Miss Curvy still

NFTS Graduation Documentary ‘Miss Curvy’ Named as Finalist at 2020 Student Academy Awards. Read more here.

Hotdocs logo

Lola, directed by Directing Documentary graduate Miranda Carter-Watson has been selected by the Oscar qualifying HotDocs, the largest documentary festival in North America. HotDocs shares powerful, provocative and personal stories from all corners of the world. Read more.

One World Media Awards logo

Isle of Us directed by Laura Wadha and Miss Curvy directed by Ghada Eldemellawy have been nominated for Best Student Film at the One World Media Awards. The festival celebrates under-reported stories that break down stereotypes, change the narrative and connect people from different cultures. Read more.

Whitney Houston

Graduate Nick Broomfield's credits include Whitney: Can I Be Me, Battle for Haditha and Kurt and Courtney.

Pink Saris still

Graduate Kim Longinotto's credits include Pink Saris, Gaea Girls and Salma.

Acta Non Verba still

Graduate Yvann Yagchi won the prestigious Grierson Award for Best Student Documentary for Acta Non Verba.

What you will study

Students will direct and shoot at least three films during the course of the MA. The first year consists of four practical exercises, increasing in length and complexity. These focus on the techniques and approach of a specific documentary genre: observation, sound and music, character–led narrative and an enquiry. Students collaborate with editors, sound recordists, sound designers and composers, and are encouraged to build relationships with cinematographers and producers. They are also expected to know how to work alone.

The second year includes three projects: a graduation film in which students synthesise what they have discovered in the first year, and use it to challenge conventional approaches to documentary; an MA dissertation in which they reflect on a documentary topic that has intrigued them during the course; and the opportunity to develop a project to take out to the industry.

The second year also consists of a visit to a film festival, meetings with broadcasters and contact with industry professionals alongside seminars on commissioning, legal requirements, financing and distribution.

Download programme specification (PDF)

Download course outline (PDF)

Head of Department

The Head of Documentary is former Channel 4 Head of Documentaries Peter Dale

Current or Recent Tutors

Current and recent tutors include independent film-maker and alumni Jasleen Sethi (Death in Bollywood, Dispatches: Inside a Women’s Refuge), producer/director Sam Blair (Make Us Dream, Captive) feature editor Claire Ferguson (Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial KillerEyes Wide Shut), executive producer Jessie Versluys (24 Hours in Police CustodyBirmingham Children’s Hospital, Modern Times), executive producer Jo Abel (Exodus, Once Upon A Time In Iraq) and producer/director Ilian Metev (Sophia’s Last Ambulance, 3/4). NFTS Fellow in Documentary is Dick Fontaine, whose credits span over 50 years, the latest being Sonny Rollins Beyond The Notes.

Fees and funding options

Fees for this course are as follows:

Home Fees: £14,800 per year 

International Fees (including EU nationals): £24,900 per year 

These are the fees for January 2022 intake. Fees for January 2023 will be confirmed in June.

Please note:

EU nationals who have been granted settled or pre-settled status under the EU settlement scheme may be eligible for “Home Fees”, subject to meeting the residency requirements. (You need to be  ordinarily resident in the UK or EEA for 3 years prior to the start of your course).  

The NFTS has £900,000 of scholarships and bursaries available.

There is a compulsory, non-refundable £25 application fee for each MA application. A non-refundable deposit of £500 is required against the cost of your fees on confirmation of your place. As a part of our admissions selection process, following a successful interview applicants are required to attend a selection workshop for two weeks, which has a fee of £150.

All production costs are included in the course fees, including the use of School facilities and equipment. Students are expected provide their own laptops and to cover their travel and entrance ticket costs for curriculum-related off-site visits and events.

The NFTS is committed to ensuring it is open to students of genuine ability, no matter what their background or financial circumstances. We don’t want anybody to be put off applying for a place at the NFTS because of the cost, which is why we award more scholarships and bursaries to British students, relative to the size of our student body, than almost any other educational institution in the UK.

At the NFTS you will get far more time learning directly from tutors, in real production facilities and on real projects, than in the vast majority of film schools or universities – and we won’t charge you extra for the cost of productions or materials. The specialist nature of our courses mean that our students gain the relevant skills and experience they need to go straight into the industry.


Every year, our students make a number of short films.


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.

While many applicants will have a degree from a British or overseas university, we will consider applicants who do not have a degree if they have an impressive portfolio, a creative track record or an alternative qualification.

For international students, more information about our entry requirements, including Visa and English language requirements, can be found on our What You Need To Know section of our Students From Abroad page. 

As a part of our admissions selection process, following a successful interview applicants are required to attend a selection workshop for two weeks, which has a fee of £150.

If you have any questions, please email

How to apply

Application deadline: 04 May 2023

Please apply with the following:

  • A short film(s) (up to 3 films can be submitted, totalling 20 minutes), which you have conceived and directed. Please submit your work via Vimeo links. Please note, that if you wish to submit a longer film, only the first 20 minutes will be viewed. If you are submitting multiple films, please specify which sections should be watched, amounting to 20 minutes in total. If dialogue is not in English, you should enclose a dialogue transcript in English.
  • A written proposal for a different film of any specified length (no more than four sides of A4 paper, typed and double spaced) which should include the basic premise, a description of the characters and locations and most importantly, the developing narrative. 

Applications open 9th January 2023. We are happy to receive applications from 9th January until the midnight of the application deadline date.