Asides from our material landscape-lakes, grasslands, buildings, roads, bridges, fauna and flora, there is of course also our virtual landscape-software, archives, media, audio and visual calls, artificial intelligence, the world wide web, films, and so on. Lewis Ulman once noted that these virtual and material landscapes co-exist, tending to inform one another.
Let’s take films for example. Films are part of our virtual landscape, and yet they have the role of modeling how we perceive and experience our material landscapes. From this standpoint, rising engagement in environmental issues has extended to many forms of expression and activism, including the world of films. The question posed by Paula Willoquet-Maricondi then remains: should virtual landscapes, such as films, be given equal value and consideration as the living ecosystems they aim to represent? If films are able to capture our natural environments, enabling us to perceive the camera lens as our own eyes firsthand, is it then well fitting to be allowed the title ecocinema?
Ecocinema is a type of environmentally oriented cinema that cultivates overt activism intentions and broadens consciousness-raising in response to environmental challenges. This film style has been prominent over the world and has even collated into an annual programming known as environmental film festivals. Countries such as Australia, The United States, Argentina, Romania, Italy, Austria, Canada, India, Malaysia, France and Trinidad have hosted environmental film festivals. Environmental film festivals comprise the impactful storytelling of documentaries and artistic films through innovative community gatherings, workshops, concerts, theater plays, panel discussions, and educational campaigns. The themes featured in these festivals range from ecology, climate change, conservation, wildlife, and pollution to social and environmental justice, indigenous empowerment, global south inequality, and food sovereignty.
The occurrence of environmental film festivals has paved way for an alignment with sustainability in our communities:
1. It broadly defines ‘environment’ : The themes of these festivals often overlap with our socio-political, economic, and cultural environments, dynamically interacting with one another. This promotes the idea that our natural world is not a separate entity, and should be inculcated into other aspects of life and its processes.
2. It promotes social health : By using film as a medium for action and discussion concerning the ecological health of the planet, positive change is fostered through public awareness. The presentations of these film festivals give the public the opportunity to experience, appreciate and understand artistic expression in the world of environmental matters. This in turn creates a space for personal growth as we tend to our environments.
3. It establishes an arena for opportunities : The artists and producers of environmental media are given a network hub to exhibit their works. Because these individuals come from diverse backgrounds, (physical ability, racial status, indigenous, economic status) the festivals celebrate and question our varied ways of viewing the state of our environment.
Ecocinema broadens and challenges our understanding of the complex world we are surrounded by. Due to this, its varying themes can be approached in two main ways. First, through a lyrical, contemplative style that immerses audiences in the natural world, retraining our perception to the earth’s constituents and inviting us to connect and appreciate it. Riverglass: A River Ballet in Four Seasons, an independent, experimental video by Andrej Zdravic, exemplifies this approach. It is a 41 minute video that evokes our sense of being towards the pristine waters of Soča in Slovenia. We are immersed in a rhythm of sound as the dancing sun rays, turquoise colors and majestic waves swirl around us, drawing us away from noisy civilization. Here, we see the river in its own terms, shifting our position in relation to the biotic community. The video teaches appreciation of the natural environment, enabling us to establish our bearings temporally and spatially. Here is a multi-monitor video installation of his work.
Unlike the poetic form of Riverglass, the Public Trust-Fight for America’s Public Lands feature film directed by David Garret Byars, instigates political action. This is the other approach that EcoCinema’s varying topics can take on. The Public Trust documentary makes a case for the protection of federal lands that forces in power aim to privatize and exploit for monetary gains. The film showcases the efforts of the Gwich’in Nation in Alaska, a journalist, a conservationist and a filmmaker in ensuring that extractive companies do not take precedence over the public lands. Shots of the actors attending court appearances, making public speeches and initiating outreach practices are emphasized throughout the documentary. Each actor, speaking directly to the audience, stares at us through the film lenses and challenges us on our stance in the struggle for liberation. So although this eco cinematic film is not quiet and contemplative in immersing us into the natural world, it challenges the values that inform our relation to the non-human world. Even with the several panoramic, overhead drone shots of the Wilderness, Wildlife Refuge and Park Monuments, the documentary still encapsulates that we should see land not merely as a scenic view or economic resource. Rather, land should be understood as intimately linked to our identity, survival, and culture.
The creativity used in films to shift our perceptions and thereby our actions enable us to take closer steps in securing a sustainable future. The art of films in ecocinema reiterates that we cannot isolate ecosystems from society and culture. We have to step back, refocus our position in the biotic community, and appreciate the biosphere we are a part of.
Let me know down below how you would express your environmental views through art!
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). (November 29, 2006). Riverglass: A River Ballet in Four Seasons. https://bampfa.org/event/riverglass-river-ballet-four-seasons.
Kenigsberg, Ben. Public Trust Review: Saving National Lands. The New York Times, September 24, 2020, sec. Movies. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/24/movies/public-trust-review.html.
Patagonia. Public Trust Film. Accessed June 5, 2022. https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/.
Planet In Focus. Mission & Mandate. Accessed June 5, 2022. https://planetinfocus.org/about/mission-mandate-2/.
Willoquet-Maricondi, Paula. (2010). Shifting Paradigms: From Environmentalist Films to Ecocinema. Framing the World: Explorations in Ecocriticism and Film. pgs. 43–54. University of Virginia Press.
Zdravic, Andrej. (1997). Riverglass – A River Ballet in Four Seasons. Independent Films. https://andrejzdravic.com/films/independent-films/riverglass.
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