ECOLOGY, FILM, PHILOSOPHY* (offered Fall 2013)
How have movies changed our perception of ourselves, the Earth, and the relationship between the two? How are they continuing to do that as we plunge into an era of digital media – a world of slippery, morphing, dynamic and interactive images that are ever more immersive, even as they bear less and less relationship to the physical world of objects, landscapes, and other organisms? How do they generate meanings as well as affects – feelings, emotional responses, desires, motivations, sensibilities, and identities – related to nature, place, ecology, and the nonhuman? How might they facilitate a more ecological sensibility and underpin an ecological politics?
This course will examine the intersections between films and filmmaking, ecology, and philosophy. It will apply the tools of ecocritical cultural/media studies and ecologically informed philosophy to cinematic practice and to representations of the relationship between humans and the natural world. We will explore and discuss a wide range of film forms and genres, including Hollywood blockbusters, Disney animation, nature documentaries, science-fiction cinema, along with foreign, independent, ethnographic, experimental, and art films. We will contextualize these within the evolving history of environmental and sociopolitical movements, including Romanticism and the American conservation movement, the 1960s New Left and counterculture, Third World and indigenous peoples movements, critiques of neoliberal globalization, and the climate justice movement. Screenings will be accompanied by readings across a range of critical theories and interpretive methods. In particular, the course will draw on ecophilosophical approaches (rooted in the processual and relational philosophies of A. N. Whitehead, C. S. Peirce, and Gilles Deleuze) to understanding how visual media affect us and how we might better use them to affect the world.
*Note on the course title (Fall 2013):
This course has been taught since 2005 under the title “Ecopolitics and the Cinema.” In its most recent iteration, in summer of 2013, I changed the title to “Ecology, Film, Philosophy” to better reflect how the course had evolved, particularly in conjunction with the new course textbook, Ecologies of the Moving Image. However, since that title was not approved across the colleges, the ENVS Program has retained the old title for this year’s rendition of the course. Both titles apply equally well as long as you keep in mind that by “ecopolitics” we mean everything to do with how humans relate to each other and to the nonhuman world, and by “ecophilosophy” we mean how we think about those same things.]
SCHEDULE OF TOPICS, READINGS, SCREENINGS
The following is a tentative schedule prepared for Fall 2013. The course varies from one iteration to the next.
1. INTRODUCTION: THE ECO-IMAGE
Themes: The nature of the moving image. Environmental visuality. Eco-nostalgia & eco-apocalypse: Imagining a bleak future & an idealized past. What to expect from the course & the text.
Screenings: Selections from An Inconvenient Truth, Soylent Green, Silent Running; selected short films
2. THE PROCESS-RELATIONAL MODEL
Themes: Cinema’s three ecologies (material, social, mental/perceptual). C. S. Peirce’s categories of experience. The cinematic experience.
Screenings: Selections from Baraka, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Contact, and short films by the Lumiere brothers and Stan Brakhage
Reading: Ecologies of the Moving Image, pp. vii-48 (Preface, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2 to end of “A process-relational ontology”); Mesle, Chapters 4 (“Experience all the way down”) and 5 (“Reality as relational process”) from Process-Relational Philosophy: An Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead (Templeton Foundation Press, 2008).
3. THE CINEMA ‘ZONE’
Themes: The cinematic experience (continued). The process-relational model of experience. Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Scientific experiments, urban decay, and “worlds without us.”
Readings: EMI, ch. 2, pp. 49-67; Weisman, “Hot Legacy” excerpt from A World Without Us.
4. GEOMORPHISM 1: LANDSCAPE & IDENTITY (TERRITORIALIZATION)
Themes: Cinematic geomorphism. Western traditions of landscape representation. Westerns and the American landscape. Ecological disasters and transformations.
Screenings: Up the Yangtze; selections from The Searchers, Earth, The Plow that Broke the Plains, The River
Reading: EMI, ch. 3, pp. 69-107
5. GEOMORPHISM 2: WORLD AS SPECTACLE, SENSATION, & DETERRITORIALIZATION
Themes: Global travel and cinematic tourism. Romanticism, road movies, car culture, and “freedom.” The 1960s and the counterculture. The database aesthetic.
Screenings: Selections from Dead Man, Days of Heaven, Easy Rider, Deliverance, Baraka, Picture of Light, Prospero’s Books, and short films by Stan Brakhage and James Benning
Reading: EMI, ch. 3, pp. 107-140
6. ANTHROPOMORPHISM 1: ETHNOGRAPHY & THE IMPERIAL GAZE
Themes: Early ethnographic films & the colonial/imperial gaze. King Kong & its legacy. Ethnographic cinema, reverse ethnography, mockumentary, & the deconstructive gaze.
Screenings: Aguirre the Wrath of God; selections from Chang, Nanook of the North, King Kong (1933), Apocalypse Now, The New World, Cannibal Tours, Un chien delicieux
Reading: ch. 4, pp. 141-171
7. ANTHROPOMORPHISM 2: CINEMAS OF BECOMING
Themes: Cinemas of becoming. Indigenous “visual sovereignty.” First person cinema. Romanticism, the New Left, & the back-to-the-land movement. Brecht’s epic theatre. Network narratives.
Screenings: Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000; selections from Sunless, Daughters of the Dust, Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner)
Reading: EMI ch. 5, pp. 171-192
8. BIOMORPHISM 1: ANIMALS & THE SPECTACLE OF NATURE
Themes: Animation. Disney & the popular imagination of nature and animals. The hunting debate & conservation ethics. Monstrous nature. Spectacular nature.
Screenings: My Neighbor Totoro; selections from Bambi, Winged Migration, March of the Penguins, Planet Earth, Wolfen, Zoo
Reading: EMI ch. 5, pp. 193-223
9. BIOMORPHISM 2: BOUNDARY CROSSERS & THE ETHICS OF THE WILD
Themes: Animals in film. Theriomorphism (becoming animal) and the human-animal boundary.
Screenings: Grizzly Man; selections from Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
Reading: EMI ch. 5, pp. 223-252
10. ECO-TRAUMA & THE ETHICS OF GLOBAL DOCUMENTARY
Themes: The politics and ethics of eco-disaster. Romantic and anti-romantic depictions of toxic & embattled landscapes. Lake Victoria: “Darwin’s dreampond” today. Africa, underdevelopment, & capitalist globalization.
Screenings: Darwin’s Nightmare; selections from Short Cuts, Magnolia, Children of Men, Lessons of Darkness, Petropolis, The Cove
Reading: EMI ch. 6, pp. 253-284
11. ECO-TRAUMA, ECOTOPIA, & THE POWER OF THE IMAGE
Themes: Process-relational ethics, aesthetics, and “ecologics.” Review: bringing the topics together in analyzing a film. The final paper.
Screening: Beasts of the Southern Wild; selections from The Tree of Life, Melancholia
Reading: EMI ch. 6, pp. 284-325
12. ECOTOPIA, RECYCLED FILM, & THE FUTURE
Themes: Commodity production, waste, & inequality. Digital cinema. Recycled cinema.
Screenings: The Gleaners and I; selections from Sans Soleil (Sunless), various videos
Reading: EMI, Afterword (pp. 327-340)
Student-Curated Short Film Fest