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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


FSS Ecologies: Ecologies and Documentary Moving Images

FSS Ecologies: Ecologies and Documentary Moving Images

Course Convenor: Dr Laura McMahon (, Centre for Film and Screen and Section of French

How does contemporary documentary cinema address questions of ecologies and human-nonhuman relationality? And how are these works shaped by the pressures of environmental crisis and related concerns about scarcity, precarity and forms of life ‘beyond the human’? The primary focus of this module is not the recent ‘green wave’ of eco-docs and activist documentary (examined by John H. Duvall and others) but rather an international corpus of experimental documentaries emerging in this area, including work by James Benning, Rose Lowder, Agnès Varda, John Akomfrah, Wang Bing, and Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel. These works complicate the historically habitual relation between ecologies and the documentary moving image, refusing to render nature as spectacle while also problematising ways of knowing the beings and environments that they frame. Drawing on theorisations of the ecological, the biopolitical and the energy economies of cinema, as well as recent re-readings of classical film theory via an ecological perspective, the module examines issues of capital, resource and vulnerability as they intersect with formal questions of space/landscape, temporality and materiality. While tracing connections between these works and ecologically-oriented debates that are shaping contemporary film theory and the humanities more broadly (e.g. ecocriticism, posthumanism, critical animal studies), we will ask what the documentary moving image – and its particular claims on the real – contributes to these debates.


Preliminary Reading

Stacy Alaimo, Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times (University of Minnesota Press, 2016)

Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Duke UP, 2010)

Nadia Bozak, The Cinematic Footprint: Lights, Camera, Natural Resources (Rutgers UP, 2012)

Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘The Climate of History: Four Theses’, Critical Inquiry, 35 (Winter 2009), 197-222

Mel Y. Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Duke UP, 2012)

Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (University of Minnesota Press, 1997)

Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am, trans. David Wills, ed. Marie-Louise Mallet (Fordham UP, 2008)

Jennifer Fay, Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene (New York: Oxford UP, 2018)

Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–76, trans. D. Macey, ed. M. Bertani and A. Fontana (Picador, 2003)

Alexandra Juhasz and Alice Lebow (eds), A Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film (Wiley Blackwell, 2015)

Scott MacDonald, ‘Toward an Eco-Cinema’, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, 11:2 (2004), 107–132.

Jean-Luc Nancy, After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes, trans. Charlotte Mandell (Fordham UP, 2015)

Anat Pick and Guinevere Narraway (eds), Screening Nature: Cinema Beyond the Human (Berghahn, 2013)

Anat Pick, Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film (Columbia UP, 2011)

Stephen Rust, Salma Monani and Sean Cubitt (eds), Ecocinema Theory and Practice (Routledge, 2012)

Nicole Seymour, Strange Natures: Future, Empathy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination (University of Illinois Press, 2013)

Nicole Shukin, Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times (University of Minnesota Press, 2009)

Belinda Smaill, Regarding Life: Animals and the Documentary Moving Image (SUNY Press, 2016) 

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