Edited by Anat Pick & Guinevere Narraway. New York/Oxford: Berghahn, 2013. 304 pp. Paper $99.00.
Ecocinema studies continues to come into its own as the most important development in cinema studies over the past fifteen years. A welcome addition to the field, Anat Pick and Guinevere Narraway’s edited collection, Screening Nature: Beyond the Human, demonstrates the breadth and depth of ecocritical approaches to cinema. Faced with the recognition that human industrial activities are reshaping the global environment, film scholars, the editors argue, have an obligation to think beyond the frameworks of cinematic realism developed by such thinkers as Kracauer and Bazin and to delve more deeply into the interwoven concerns of materiality and representation.
In terms of breadth, the collection covers multiple genres and modes of production, incorporates a diverse blend of methodological approaches, and presents a global selection. Documentary films are the focus of several chapters, including James Leo Cahill’s exploration of the distinctions between anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism in the films of Jean Painlevé and Geneviève Hamon and David Ingram’s rhetorical analysis of An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Gugenheim, 2006). Still other chapters examine avant-garde and independent productions, including Narraway’s reading of the formal and production strategies deployed by experimental filmmaker Rose Lowder and May Adadol Ingawanij’s in their approach to animism and Thai history in the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Scholarly volumes rarely include the voices of working filmmakers. Thus, it is a pleasure to see Silke Panse’s theoretical analysis of eco-aesthetics in the work of James Benning followed by an extensive interview with the filmmaker. The chapter by filmmakers Steven Eastwood and Geoffrey Alan Rhodes contextualizing their film on the “discovery” of pyramids near a Bosnian village demonstrates careful attention to cinematic and cultural constructions of landscape. From Elana Gomel’s examination of Soviet science fiction films and Chia-ju Chang’s analysis of South Korean Buddhist cinema to Elizabeth Leane and Stephen Nicol’s look at Antarctic [End Page 44] exploration films and Kay Armatage’s coverage of environmental film festivals, the collection is a genuine globe trekker.
In terms of depth, the contributors delve into complex discussions of ecocinema theory and navigate the liminal space between human and nonhuman animals. The opening section on theory features two distinct approaches to ecological realism by Anat Pick and Silke Panse. Though their theories differ, both Pick and Panse favor the aesthetics of independent filmmakers over mainstream productions. Adding further theoretical rigor, Sophie Mayer combines ecocriticism and queer theory to consider the multifaceted meanings bound up in the juxtaposed images of industrial and bodily pollution in New Queer Cinema, and Claire Molloy investigates the problematic representation of nonhuman animals in Avatar (James Cameron, 2009). Carrie Packwood Freeman and Scott Tulloch’s chapter on the development of the activist gaze in recent animal liberation documentaries rounds out the collection’s critical inquiry into the ways that cinematic texts inform, construct, and deconstruct our notions of the posthuman in this crucial time in world history. Together, the contributors add to the growing body of work in ecocinema studies by offering a wide range of analytical frameworks for studying the relationships between filmmakers, film texts, and viewers.