Framing the World – two timely new books on ecocriticism and film

5 Dec 2010: Short Ecocinema book review – Twelve essays  in four parts, focusing on ecocinema as activist cinema; the representation of environmental justice issues in Hollywood; independent and foreign films, the representation of animals, ecosystems, natural and human-made landscapes and readings of two mainstream eco-auteurs, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Peter Greenaway, Framing the World; explorations in ecocriticism and film, edited by Paula Willoquet-Maricondi, 2010

At last, a book on ecocriticism for film that is more than a review of films with environmental themes (though there are so very few of the latter as well). Lots of very valuable and timely essays on both mainstream cinema but also identifying key experimental filmmakers who have developed ecocentric approaches to film-making, for eg. in the work of independent Slovenian film/sound artist Andrej Zdravic. Also an excellent chapter on the very real limitations and lack of critical awareness in the director Herzog’s popularly regarded environmental films.

Film writers and critics have been surprisingly remiss from really exploring ecological concerns or even the potential for cinema to present new ways of relating to the earth. Also missing has been an understanding that cinema has been largely responsible for reinforcing our feelings of separation from nature, not showing how we are intimately connected and dependent on the ecosystems around us. There is even less awareness in how cinema is the engine of our hyper-consumer unsustainable societies that are causing such irreparable ecological harm. Literature has enjoyed an eco-critical discourse for the last 20 years, lets hope books such as this will move conversations in film studies much more rapidly.

Just a note, while this book is comprised of a number of theoretical essays, all are very readable. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is trying to understand how cinema could be more effectively employed in this age of ecological crisis. It really makes you assess how other environmental themed films are falling short of either engaging audiences or failing to present new ways of seeing the world around us.

Also of note and just published this year is Chinese Ecocinema in the Age of Environmental Challenge. I think its great to have this perspective of film from a region that has endured vast ecological destruction and is producing many poignant environmental films. This book is much more academic but again an excellent resource for those interested in the critical development of ecocinema. It’s also made me eager to search out the films mentioned in the book, like this one centered on  the 3 Gorges dam – ‘Still Life

Still Life shows the arrival of two people to Fengjie in the Sichuan province of China. Han Sanming (Han Sanming) arrives in the city looking for his daughter who he hasn’t seen since he split up from his wife sixteen years ago, but he finds that the address of the house he is looking for is no longer in existence. It is underwater, flooded in an early phase of the creation of the Three Gorges Dam. WINNER of “Grand Prize” – 2006 Venice Film Festival

Note This post was published previously on my ecoartnotebook blog

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