In Moving Environments: Affect, Emotion, Ecology, and Film, international scholars investigate how films portray human emotional relationships with the more-than-human world and how such films act upon their viewers' emotions. Emotion and affect are the basic mechanisms that connect us to our environment, shape our knowledge, and motivate our actions. Contributors explore how film represents and shapes human emotion in relation to different environments and what role time, place, and genre play in these affective processes. Individual essays resituate well-researched environmental films such as An Inconvenient Truth and March of the Penguins by paying close attention to their emotionalizing strategies, and bring to our attention the affective qualities of films that have so far received little attention from ecocritics, such as Stan Brakhage's Dog Star Man. The collection opens a new discursive space at the disciplinary intersection of film studies, affect studies, and a growing body of ecocritical scholarship. It will be of interest not only to scholars and students working in the field of ecocriticism and the environmental humanities, but for everyone with an interest in our emotional responses to film.
Ecocritical Film Studies and the Effects of Affect, Emotion, and Cognition
Alexa Weik von Mossner
Moving Environments explores the role played by affect and emotion in the production and reception of films that centrally feature natural environments and nonhuman actors, both real and animated. Affect-our automatic, visceral response to a given film or sequence-and emotion-our cognitive awareness of such a response-are, in the words of Carl Plantinga, "fundamental to what makes film artistically successful, rhetorically powerful, and culturally influential."1 Without doubt this is also true for films that are implicitly or explicitly concerned with environmental issues and themes. However, the exploration of affect and emotion and their relevance to human experience of and attitudes toward nonhuman nature has occupied, at best, a marginal place within ecocritical film studies. This is why I initiated a workshop on the topic in the summer of 2011, hosted by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at the University of Munich and bringing together some of the leading ecocritical film scholars. Participants were asked to respond to the following questions: How do films represent human emotion and affect in relation to different environments? How do these films influence our emotions while seeing them and after seeing them, and how do they generate meanings? How do they affect our relationship to the human and more-than-human world and what can we say about their affective or "passionate" politics? The essays assembled in this volume are our partial and preliminary answers to these questions and the result of a two-day intensive workshop of presenting and discussing early drafts, with much deliberation and revision in the aftermath of the meeting.
The volume deliberately covers a wide range of films, not all of which would qualify for Paula Willoquet-Maricondi's definition of "ecocinema" which, in her understanding, has "consciousness-raising and activist intentions, as well as responsibility to heighten awareness about contemporary issues and practices affecting planetary health."2 While many of the films under consideration in the individual chapters do have activist intentions, others are primarily interested in entertainment value and box office results. Whether such commercial interests automatically turn the latter group into "environmentalist films," defined by David Ingram as "ideological agglomerations that draw on and perpetuate a range of contradictory discourses concerning the relationship between human beings and the environment,"3 is an intriguing question that isn't easily answered. As the contributions to this volume by Nicole Seymour, David Whitley, Adrian Ivakhiv, and Pat Brereton demonstrate, the commercialism and sentimentalism of popular films does not necessarily stop them from being effective eco-films; their affective appeal may in fact give rise to both enjoyment and reflection. Choosing a wide scope of film texts for its investigations, including popular fiction film, documentaries, animation, and experimental film, Moving Environments seeks to open a new discursive space at the disciplinary intersection of film studies, theories of affect and emotion, and a growing body of ecocritical scholarship that studies the complex relationship between imaginative texts and the physical environment.4 Once opened, that space should invite further inquiry into the relationship between film, emotion, and ecology in various contexts.
To date, relatively few scholars have studied cinema and media texts from an ecocritical perspective, and many of those who have published books within the field are among the contributors to this volume. Gregg Mitman's Reel Nature (1999) and Derek Bousé's Wildlife Films (2000) both consider our mediated encounters with wildlife in nature documentaries, examining how such films shape our perception of nature and how commercial considerations have led to what Mitman has called the "genre of sugar-coated educational nature films initiated by Walt Disney in the late 1940s."5 If "emotional drama had to be made part of filmed nature" in much of wildlife film, as Mitman has argued,6 the same is true for Hollywood blockbusters that focus on human-nature relationships. David Ingram's Green Screen (2000) was the first study to explore environmental Hollywood films from an ecocritical perspective, suggesting that such films bring together a range of contradictory discourses around environmental issues while largely perpetuating romantic attitudes to nature. Sean Cubitt's EcoMedia (2005), Pat Brereton's Hollywood Utopia (2005), Robin Murray and Joseph Heumann's Ecology and Popular Film (2009), and Deborah Carmichael's edited volume The Landscape of Hollywood Westerns (2006) similarly examine representations of nature in popular film. Murray and Heumann have recently enlarged our knowledge with two additional ecocritical books, both of which focus on specific film genres: "That's All Folks"? Ecocritical Readings of American Animated Features (2011) and Gunfight at the Eco-Corral: Western Cinema and the Environment (2012). Recent years have also seen the publication of Paula Willoquet-Maricondi's Framing the World (2010) and Stephen Rust, Salma Monani, and Sean Cubitt's Ecocinema Theory and Practice (2013). Both of these essay collections offer wide-ranging introductions to ecocritical film studies, providing readers with in-depth analyses of a broad range of films and mapping the various theoretical approaches within the emerging field.
While our affective engagements with environmental film are an implicit concern in most of these studies, Adrian Ivakhiv's Ecologies of the Moving Image (2013) is more directly concerned with the way in which "images move us."7 Proposing a "process-relational" model of cinema, Ivakhiv reminds us of "the thick immediacy of cinematic spectacle, the shimmering texture of image and sound as it strikes us and resounds in us viscerally and affectively."8 This visceral experience of the moving image, he writes, is what "moves us most immediately and directly" when we are watching film. Together with the sequential unfolding of narrative, the affective spectacle of the moving image is what engages us in a film during and after the viewing experience.9 In his contribution to this volume, Ivakhiv demonstrates how his process-relational model of film can be employed to analyze the "global affects" of James Cameron's Avatar (2009), a film that has been both lauded and heavily criticized for its melodramatic framing of an eco-social resistance narrative. David Whitley's The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation (2012) also makes an important contribution to the study of affect in environmental film as it challenges the notion that the sentimentality of mainstream Hollywood movies necessarily prevents viewers from developing a critical awareness of environmental issues. "The enhanced role of sentiment within dramatic narratives," argues Whitley, "could provide audiences . with a cultural arena within which heightened emotions and humour, rather than operating as a barrier to thought and critical engagment, might offer a relatively safe space within which crucial issues could be rehearsed and even-in light forms-explored."10
Moving Environments builds on the important work done in these earlier studies while also expanding it by investigating our affective engagements with environmental film from a range of theoretical perspectives. It thereby breaks new ground not only in ecocriticism, but also more generally in film studies as well as in the emerging interdisciplinary fields of affect studies and cognitive cultural studies. While film scholars outside of ecocriticism have produced an impressive body of work on the emotional aspects of film viewing using psychoanalytic, phenomenological, Deleuzian, and cognitivist frameworks, there has been relatively little interest in these studies in the affective and emotional impact of cinematic representations of natural environments, which are often understood as a metaphor for interior psychic worlds or as backdrop for the development of character and narrative. Ecocritics, however, are trained to pay attention to the role that environments and ecological concerns play in the development of character and narrative. The essays collected in this volume offer insight not only into the intricacies of human-nature interactions on film, but also into the interplay between films and viewers as well as the larger cultural ramifications of such interaction. In addition, this should make them interesting beyond the relatively narrow disciplinary boundaries of ecocritical film studies, not least because many of them explicitly or implicitly draw on the important insights of previous work on affect and emotion in psychology, philosophy, anthropology, geography, sociology, and film and cultural studies. Rather than presenting a single, cohesive theoretical approach, the collection aims at opening up multiple paths for further...