Here are my notes from Day 2 of the Moving Environments workshop in Munich. The same caveats apply as yesterday: they’re hastily typed up and reflect only my own interpretation of what transpired. If any of the participants would prefer not to have their ideas shared in this way, I will be happy to remove them upon request.


Session 5: Animation and Affect

David Whitley (Cambridge University)
Animation, Realism, and the Genre of Nature

‘March of the Penguins’ – ‘Happy Feet’ relationship. ‘March’: realism, extreme environment pure of human elements, an animal-centered environment. ‘HF’ exploits CGI to produce realistic texture with unrealistic plot line – gives moral authority (realism) and playfulness (animation); subplot with human-animal relationship as focus. Leo Braudy’s “Ceremonies of innocence and the genre of nature” @ emergence of new “genre of nature” in 1980s/90s enables us to take popular films seriously for their affective work for audiences @ feeling relationship to nature (“staging ceremonies of innocence”, etc.) by reworking previous genres. ‘March’ does this because of its subliminal associations of the setting (Arctic/Antarctic landscape) with its symbolic function of purity, extremity, etc. but also serves as a barometer of climate-changing world – not overtly but implicitly: through metaphors in voice-over narration (“dance,” “song”). HP develops these metaphors (song and dance) more playfully @ ugly duckling fable as well as eco-fable. HF uses classic Disney treatment (romance, musical, etc) to enact double-closure of the twin fables.

Discussion: Extra-textual fascination with animators’ voices etc (star discourse, e.g. Robin Williams). What does animation’s poetic license do to its grounding in reality? Nature docs as ceremonies of innocence vs. our increasing knowledge of how they are made – through “making of” add-on docs etc. Braudy’s argument: should the nature genre be traced back further, e.g. to post-war period (apocalyptic films etc)?  Documentary-animation progression allows further humanization (e.g. HF’s Latino & African-American characters). What happens to “ceremonies of innocence” potential when these films are drawn into other cultural discourses (“family values,” “culture wars,” in the U.S.)? Dialogic readings of films…


Pat Brereton (Dublin City University)
Eco-Cinema and Affect: A Case Study of Pixar’s UP as a Smart Eco-Narrative

‘Feel-good’ Hollywood films: to understand their effects, need more empirical analysis of audience responses; need to marry qualitative (humanistic) with quantitative (social-scientific) analyses. ‘Light’ versus ‘deep’ & earnest eco-films: ‘light’ ones can sometimes be more provocative because they’re connecting with larger audiences, playing with bigger themes, and allow audiences to visualize issues (e.g. Day After Tomorrow). Pixar: studio coming out of Disney, moving from industrial to smart artisanal mode of production – is it more effective with getting to youth audiences? Argument that Disney et al use innocence for conservative ideological agenda (Hartley, Buckingham, Robin Wood, Zukin) is too limited. ‘Wall-E’ vs. ‘UP’. Filmmakers don’t want to be ghettoized as eco-filmmakers. Pixar = smart, but also promoting old-fashioned nostalgic ‘community’ values. UP promotes exotic nature: it’s very digital, but they actually go there (South America) to recreate the place digitally.

Discussion: Disney & Pixar not easily distinguishable on the grounds of efforts toward realism (Disney took months sketching real animals etc). Reception studies are important; funding bodies like them; but it’s good to think critically about the idea of reception. ‘Preferred’ readings, ‘reading against the grain,’ etc. can be field tested, resonance for eco-praxis; but reception studies have had bad press (e.g. @ sex & violence reception studies to prove direct correlation between stimulus and effects, etc.). Humanistic scholars have generally shied away from assumptions about clear 1-to-1 reception relationships, but ecocritics now have an agenda: we should develop ‘best practices’ for eco-film. But is this a Faustian bargain?  In science communication, scientists want to teach the ‘ignorant masses’ *about* science; but ecocritics need to be more nuanced & opaque.

Where can we have our greatest impact: on policy makers? on filmmakers? on other film/media theorists & critics? on students? Audience studies of An Inconvenient Truth had surprising results & these are worth following up on: build bridges with environmental scientists, psychologists (social & environmental psychologists). Media studies debates around psychoanalysis and reception studies: can we marry them so we don’t pre-assume psychological structures but also not take what people say about their responses at face value? I.e., use reception studies but still do (textual, psychological, ideological) analysis; even the questionnaires, interview texts etc need to be analyzed. But too easy to reify our own political positions in our readings of texts.

Where’s the green Siskel & Ebert? (Contribute to Ecomedia Studies, Indications, and other blogs; Wilfrid Laurier U Press developing a web presence for environmental humanities, Rachel Carson Center collaborations with Green City, Eco-Move?, et al.) Potential for working with NGOs, environmental film festivals, etc. Non-European point of view: seek potential appeal to consumerist middle classes in India, China, etc., who don’t know about eco-cinema but could become interested.


Session 6: Affect and Place

Janet Walker (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Moving Home: Remodeling and Remediating the New NOLA

Examination of oeuvre of post-Katrina testimonial documentaries from a psychoanalytic trauma scholar’s perspective. Trauma scholarship recognizes inherent belatedness of trauma, trauma as psychic event. Are films helpful for working through or retraumatizing subjects, spectators?; problems of witnessing and its annihilation. Retrospective interviews shot at temporal & spatial distance from ‘event’ (paradigm is Holocaust studies). Situated docs (speaking from on-site) are different from this. Critique of conventions of testimonial documentary: CC issues question the psychoanalytic concentration of recursiveness, pastness of trauma, etc. How do we hear the voices of concerned parties through trauma lens?

Clip: “Right to Return: New Homes Movies from the Lower Ninth Ward” (J. Demme). Intercuts emotionally charged interviews with shots from car moving along devastated city streets. Socio-ecological (critical race studies) critique. Psychoanalytic & phenomenological combo to think through the trauma, the distressed landscape (Ed Casey, Nigel Thrift). Grounds for critique of these docs: Wendy Brown argues assertions of belonging regulate, reify power; the films overemphasize emotion, loss, reparation, while inhibiting ecological considerations. The “Levee effect”: reducing consequences of minor events (storms) increases vulnerability to major events, reduces drastic action to change land uses; ecological agenda not wide enough. Following Henri Lefebvre: incorporate work on spatial representations and practices. Our situation is dire: “we’re all from New Orleans… future Katrinas await us all.”

Discussion: Doc didn’t offer a lot of info on individual cases. Demme’s follow-up offers more info. Framing: camera pushes in, music starts – intends to elicit affective response. It’s a ‘bad’ film but all the more important for it: community-based film, control given over to the speaking subjects. Compare with ‘Trouble the Water’: camera shakiness – ‘productive boredom’, sickness, sadness,… Dilemma: emotionally impacting, but exercise in virtuous […]? Does it produce change? Spike Lee is making his own Shoah of New Orleans.

Eco-effect vs. social-justice effect: how do we tease out the differences? SJ activists’ tendency to disregard the natural (“no such thing as a natural disaster”) – vs. – Envir scientists who say all disasters are natural, humans are natural too, & we can predict where disasters will happen. There’s a politics to calling upon ‘respect for nature’: env justice framework is crucial in such situations. ‘What/who counts as nature?’  How do we hold together the SJ and env science arguments without reifying either?

Image & spatial practices: how would it work in doc & fiction film? Mapping of different inhabitants’ movements (e.g. Israelis, Palestinians) helps us think about how space/place are constructed within docs – can create more continuity . Doc as navigational technology, visualization strategies (incl Google Earth et al databases – depopulated Palestinian villages aren’t included, but they can be brought in from other web sites/databases). Time/futurity angle: Spike Lee alludes to GW, BP oil spill. Element of control: place-attachment, -identity, ‘Katrina can’t stop me from being here’….


Nicole Seymour (University of Louisville)
Moving Pictures about Standing Still: Irony, Immobility, and Place-Based Cinema

Ecocinema is largely lacking in “unserious” esp. ironic modes, which can do important work in ecocinema – to minimize or self-critique enviro self-seriousness, doomsaying, mitigating anti-elitist backlash. Al Gore’s limited sense of irony. Acknowledge tension btw env agendas & cinematic tech (Bouse, Mitman). Corrective irony: activist recognizes it but bad guy doesn’t (eg @ accepting global warming). Clips: Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy”, Kelli Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy”. Both films use ‘thoroughgoing irony’ (Szerszynski): ironize themselves, filmmaking process, etc. Irony’s humorousness but affective unseriousness, serious effects.

Discussion: Meeker’s ‘Comedy of Survival’: argues that comedy (upward moving narrative arc) is more productive. Comic vs tragic irony. Gen X ironic playful cinema (Donnie Darko et al) is about in-out crowds. Can irony not simply duplicate this in-out crowd knowing-the-joke-ness? Reichardt, Jon Raymond (Screenwriter), Todd Haynes et al – circle of place-based cinemamakers, ‘moving pictures that don’t go anywhere,’ generic irony, westerns where you can’t see the vista. ‘W&L”s irony isn’t necessarily evident – it took 5 viewings for Nicole to get it. Rel. btw ironic modes and dialogical vs monological texts (Bakhtin, Sayles). Place films allow contradictions, tensions come out btw different voices, perspectives.

But is irony more politically effective than doomsday genre? ‘Doomsday fatigue.’ Coexistence of comedy & horror is productive. Irony-space-place relationship: spatial irony (e.g. rendering degraded neighborhoods in loving style). Ironic nature photography: R. Misrach, Burtynsky, Goin, et al. Vonnegut’s satire is very serious – vs. – The Simpsons on nuclear risk, Portlandia on Portland’s enviers. Uncanny/unheimlich-ness of ecological risks: could irony bring us closer to this ecological uncanny? Subcultural studies for studying the effects of irony in fan communities. Compare eco-activism with early feminism: serious piss-people-off intent but perceived as humorlessness. Does current social positioning of green discourse need an ironic solution? Thoroughgoing irony can lead to Simpsons dilemma: “are you being sarcastic? I can’t tell anymore…” The Wild Boys satire of Attenborough. Culture jamming: irony triggering recognition (through juxtaposition), does it put together a bigger picture? W&L and Idiocracy are both about people who don’t see the connections in front of them.


Session 7: Ecocinema and Indigenous People

Johanna Feier (TU Dortmund University)
Warm Smiles on Cold Ice: An Eco-Critical Reading of Alaska Natives in Films

Indigenous interactions with Arctic landscapes: indigenous characters as translators. “Eskimo” (Van Dyke): Binary between Natives attached to land – versus – Western civilization impacting land. “”Salmonberries” (Adlon, 1991): animal-inspired viewpoints – camera movement captures swaying of sled and flying of a bird. Both films present emotional engagement with Northern environment that hinges on translator role of indigenous protagonists. “On Deadly Ground”: too overtly eco-prescriptive film. What do Native directors do with emotion-ladenness of place?  McLean’s (indigenous) “Sikumi (On the Ice)”. Arctic environment as stage/backdrop where things happen – vs – its meaning-ladenness.

Discussion: Could the indigenous-made film (Sikumi) be showing landscape as used in everyday ways, rather than reifying it as an affect-laden object? Does the emotion/affect have to be conveyed through a person’s relationship to the environment, or can it be shown through the landscape itself? Landscape as character: it can be a positive or negative (antagonistic) force (e.g. to the non-natives in ‘Eskimo’). Australian Outback comparison. Need more work on emotional responses to landscape: phenomenological, cognitive, etc.  Materialist historical perspective on these films: indigenous cultures being brought into closer relationship/dependence with West; substitution of animals for technologies; role of cosmologies… Compare with Atanarjuat, Ten Canoes (cosmology-laden indigenous fiction feature films). Could the bird’s eye view not be a plane’s/helicopter’s eye view? New Age/romantic reading of the Salmonberries scene: white woman not seeing the landscape but fantasizing flying over it like a shaman/eagle. Just because the Natives feel attachment to the land, does this mean the land feels attached to the Natives, or might the land be sick and tired of all of us?


Angela Kreutz (University of Queensland)
Aboriginal Self-Expression: A Visual Representation of Children’s Emotional Relationship with Place

Environmental psychology and anthropology perspective on emotional place relationships. Aboriginal/indigenous communities’ strong place attachments; children in formative years in Abo. communities form strong place bonds. How do you do research in a way that gives them voice? Research in Cherbourg reserve in Queensland: large youth population (42% are under 15), 55% unemployment. Methodology: Behavioral domain: observation, activity diary, mapping (aerial, cognitive, video); Psychological domain: photographing & photo-sorting, interviews, community walks. Results: emotional place relationships incl. symbolic home (kids had several ‘homes’), natural retreat, immediate activities (school et al), alternative experiences. Usefulness of hypermedia (visual, audio & text; non-linear, user-directed online et al publications online, e.g. online journals, project-based website, CD-ROMs etc.) to bridge academic & non-academic audiences, it’s user-driven & self-directed, produces honest & ethical representations, evokes emotional response, promotes progressive change.

Discussion: Is hypermedia really a panacea? How accessible is it? Ethnographic cinema, ‘hard’ vs. ‘soft’ primitivism (Panofsky) – risk of reifying indigenous culture: how do we play it off? It’s a mediation between 2 voices, the filmmaker/scholar’s and the subject’s – or 3+ voices (the user, the community). GoogleEarth Outreach (Rebecca Moore’s program for training indigenous communities). Intra-community inter-generational issues: how do you take what the children have produced and replay it to a multi-generational community? Importance of including other participants as well (school staff, youth centers, family members, etc.). It’s upsetting to the community that environmental & cultural knowledge is being lost, so every form of recording it is valued by the community. The kids are fascinated by television, by computers, by visual images; indig. children have been shown to be better visual learners than non-indigenous.

Did the use of media change the kids? Yes, it did – it allowed them to be self-reflective and reflective @ how they’re representing their place. Critiques of GoogleEarth’s humanitarian ‘layer’ as reproducing ideological tropes: what are the best ways for communities to use GoogleEarth for mapping/cartographic purposes? (e.g. a Palestinian teenager using it to plan a tunnel from Gaza to Egypt*). How are our own media objects *analyzable* texts/objects and not just ways of communicating our research?


[Here I'm summarizing our discussions and adding a few themes of my own.]

Overarching question:
How do (different kinds of) films produce and/or depict (different kinds of) affect @ (different kinds of) environmental themes? How do factors of time (future, past), place, genre (irony/comedy/drama/melodrama/SF/documentary/horror/etc., documentary vs fiction, ‘politics of boredom’), etc influence this?

What are the different theoretical approaches & how do we negotiate between them? And between affect in text vs. affect in viewers’ experience?

Critical anthropomorphism:
What are the different kinds of anthropomorphism – and zoomorphism, technomorphism/mechanomorphism (‘ecosee’), etc.? What would be a ‘critical anthropomorphism’? Othering/saming; human rights/animal rights: how to balance these out?

Ecological seeing = seeing the connections, the ‘whole system’:
What are the best ways of encouraging this? (E.g. directly or through ironic/humorous indirection, e.g. making fun of people who don’t see the connections in front of their own eyes?) William Burroughs’ frozen moment when you finally see what’s on the end of your fork = the ‘naked lunch.’

The place of empirical studies (versus ‘readings’):
What should we try to do? Who should we collaborate with (social scientists, psychologists, enviro scientists) and how?

Ecocinema vs ecocritical film studies:
Who are our audiences? (Ecocritics, film theorists/scholars/reviewers, audiences, students, affect researchers, cultural policymakers, filmmakers & marketers, et al.?) What are our own ecopolitical or other commitments? What is the continuum of options for the eco-theorist/analyst/critic, i.e., from the instrumental (make films that change people!) to the critical/reflective (encourage a more nuanced and socio-ecologically sensitized appreciation for what films do)? What are the possibilities for engaging with readers, audiences, the larger public sphere (Sandilands’ ‘green public culture’, lifestyle politics), etc.?


*”Palestinian teenager…” — This is a correction from an earlier version where I had referred to a youth engineering a tunnel “to Gaza.”

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