Nature Films vs. Critical Environmental Documentaries Media, Politics and the Environment Miklos Sukosd
Nature films • Documentary film claims to represent reality • “Representation of reality”: realism (recording, documentation) • “Representation of reality”: objectivity (detachment, journalistic accuracy, scientific objectivity) • Integrity of filmmaker as guarantee of realism and objectivity • Nature film at “crossroads of science, popular education, art and business” (Vivanco, 2002) • Key functions are children’s education and adults' entertainment • Such documentaries are BOTH educational tools and market commodities • Do they represent “reality” • How does commodification impact nature films?
Nature films • Assumption: "Wildlife and natural history films are environmentally committed documentaries” (Vivanco, 2002, referring to Bouse, 2000) • Structure, topics, narratives from other (human) film genres • Produced in competitive media markets to capture audiences, to create profit • “Fakery of simulated spectacle and the objectivity of science” • Fantasy world: camera tricks (slow motions, frog eye, etc.) • Lighting and colors adjusted for aesthetic pleasure
Nature films • Cutting out references to presence of human life (electricity poles, cars, etc.)—like in a costume drama • Cutting out context: safari tourists, documentation/context of filmmaking • Using music and stock sounds • De-familiarizing nature and Earth • Creating a beautiful dream world without people
Nature films • Dramatic framework, narrative: from human stories • Fictionalized narratives • Anthropomorphization of animal families and individuals • Monogamy, responsible parenting, work ethic, late gratification, gender division of labor • Moral values (responsibility, good/bad) implied regarding animals • Violent (bloody) and explicit sexual scenes “censored” • Narrative conventions from mainstream Hollywood films (Bouse 2000)
Nature films: Planet Earth • Main question of nature films: “What is nature good for? What is it worth?” • Plant Earth answer: “Nature is good looking at.” (Richard Beck: Costing Planet Earth, 2010) • Planet Earth (original BBC television series) cost GBP16 Million • Early nature films: feeding animals and animals’ fight • Terrier vs. Wildcat (1906): “animal pornography” • Visual pleasure of watching cruelty and torture of animals (Bouse 2000)
Nature films: Planet Earth • Predation: no coherent interpretation • Threatening (wolves, lions, shark) and beautiful, “visual delight” (dolphins, cheeta) (Beck, 2000) • 21st century eco-cide: “No more spectacle.” • Species are disappearing at increasing rate • Visual representation: human-like animal families and individuals
Nature films: Planet Earth • Filmmakers go after visual pleasures • Utilizing and usurping remaining spots for profits • What remains? “Last wilderness” • Museum of images instead of wildlife • “But visual splendor is a poor index of the health of Earth”s ecosystems.” (Beck 2010) • Representation in film vs. real trends of consumer capitalism as the cause of environmental crisis • Nature films: documentation or aesthetic lies?
Critical environmental documentaries • Focus on environmental problems and human action as their cause • Nature films: implicit, hidden ideology of visual aesthetic pleasure • CED: more or less explicit social criticism • Degree and target of criticism changes • Globalization; humankind; industrialization; urbanization; capitalist corporations • Visual DISpleasure; disturbing images of harm • Global climate change is key issue
Darwins’ Nightmare (2005) • Devastating impact of Nile perch to Lake Victoria in Africa from 1960s • Predatory fish kills other species • Social issues: poverty of fishermen • AIDS and prostitution • Guns from Europe for civil war • External predatory fish symbolic of external predatory global powers
Golden age of documentaries • CED genre grows because of limited mass media exposure of env issues • The End of Suburbia (2006) • Car-based consumer culture in suburbs unsustainable • American Dream based on cheap oil, high consumption and suburban living will collapse • Fuel (2008) • Many faces of oil dependence • Positive: Ways out to green living
An Inconvenient Truth (2006) • Antecedent: Too Hot to Handle (2006) HBO documentary • An Inconvenient Truth (2006) • Gore’s impressive lectures • Science data + visual representation (melting glaciers; future rising sea level) • Sympathetic personal portrait: responsible policy maker • Personal stories: childhood; loss of sister to smoking-related lung cancer (in tobacco-producing family)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006) • End of movie: showing small ways of individual consumer action and collective political action • Huge audiences and agenda setting impact • Promoted by activist groups • Academy Award and Nobel Peace Prize (2007)
The 11th Hour (2007) • Leonard DiCaprio: overview of the Earth’ several crises • Threats to the survival of human species • Footage from 50 environmental experts • Depletion of ocean resources, deforestation, desertification, fossil fuel overuse, epidemics • Convergence of crises • Criticism of divided political class • 1970s Republicans Democrats worked together on environmental legislation
Earth 2100 (2009) • Oil dependence -- 2015 • We are the frogs -- 2040 • Population explosion -- 2060 -- 2070 – • After the flood – 2084 • Vision for 2100