Themed Playlist: Digital and Interactive Media Projects that Think Through the Environment
About the lists: Calls to socially distance and self-isolate are driving people to look for things to watch. But the sheer amount of options out there can be overwhelming. For this reason, we at the Centre for Screen Cultures are producing themed playlists of film, video, and television so you can organise your own series or festival at home (or home school). They will update here and here: https://screenculture.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/category/media-playlists/
In a time when we might be more attuned to matters of space and place than ever, and as so much of our movement is now about mediation and interaction with the digital, it is wonderful to have Dale Hudson‘s and Patricia R. Zimmermann‘s contribution: Digital and Interactive Media Projects that Think Through the Environment:
The frenzied stampede to distance learning unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the need for free and accessible online media resources. Amidst the existential and health threats engulfing all of us, the pandemic also opens a crack to nudge documentary studies away from its traditional preoccupation with linear film and video to consider digital and interactive forms more substantively. Hybrid curations in our courses, research, and festivals propel documentary studies and practice into new territories, stretching it, resetting its operations, pivoting its practices, continuing its histories.
We curated this playlist of digital and interactive documentaries that ask us to think through the environment and its entanglements rather than to think about it from afar as something outside or beyond us. All were programmed for various online new media art exhibitions of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF) at Ithaca College in Ithaca (New York), USA across the last four years. Now in its 23rd year, FLEFF has programmed exhibitions of new media art since 2003, partially in response to its location in upstate New York, a vibrant region for experimentation in arts, technology, media.
These documentaries do not offer representations of the environment. Instead, they inhabit new architectures of a myriad of interfaces, platforms, algorithms, codes to expand environmental epistemologies that think through the environment — a strategy that mobilizes heterogeneities, relationalities, and contingencies rather than binaries of human/nonhuman, nature/culture, renewable/nonrenewable. The various structures of these works suggest environmental thinking infuses their design: dynamic layers constantly interacting across different levels, a mesh of landscapes, natural and built environments, human and nonhuman people, “clean” and dirty technologies, iterative processes, visible and invisible power relations, complex politics, and ongoing struggles.
Amazonia (Roger Beebe, United States, 2019)
Taking its corporate name of one of the world’s largest rivers, Amazon has become synonymous both with unlimited selection and convenience — and with predatory capitalism. Amazonia explores the spaces “where the virtual becomes physical” by investigating the concrete effects of online purchases. The film shows us external views of the fulfillment centers whose internal workings are hidden, effacing their effects on humans. In a country where one in 600 citizens works for Amazon, Amazonia asks us to think about people “at the other end of the internet.” Its desktop aesthetic and essay film narration disrupt the slick corporate style of Apple product launches, the feel-good market solutions promoted at TED Talks, and the allure of choices and savings through Amazon.
Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (Erin McElroy et al., United States, 2013–present)
Although northern California is associated with Silicon Valley, this innovation is fueled by egregious gentrification practices. With its tagline “Visualizing Bay Area Displacement and Resistance,” the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP) is a database of information and resources that allows users to mobilize against gentrification. The project includes practical information — most in English, some in Spanish — and reports to help communities and individuals understand how they can avoid dispossession and the erasure of their histories. AEMP also features narratives about eviction and gentrification, oral histories, and murals. Built on the open-source Ushahidi platform (rather than the proprietorial Google Maps), the project’s crowdsourced map, allows users to contribute their own stories of eviction or sightings of gentrification projects.
The Black Gold – A Web Documentary (Nicole Defranc and Katrine Skipper, Ecuador/Denmark/Norway, 2017)
Diving into the contradiction of Norway’s efforts to “green” its economy with vast wealth accumulated from oil extraction, The Black Gold – A Web Documentary offers users a platform to investigate the history and politics of Norway’s oil industry, which has contributed to its state wealth, and to imagine ways to maintain Norway’s economic stability while safeguarding the environment. It includes pages of information on Greenpeace, the international environmental organization that operates in 55 countries, including Norway, and on Statoil, the Norwegian-based multinational petroleum company. It features quantitative information in interactive charts and graphs
Jerusalem, We Are Here (Dorit Naaman, Canada/Jerusalem, 2016)
Despite the intense violence since the mid-twentieth century Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic), Jerusalem was historically a diverse and tolerant city where Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs, lived together, traded, and sometimes married. Jerusalem, We Are Here excavates that history, digitally erasing checkpoints, walls, and barriers, to give access to erased Palestinian histories by re-layering Jerusalem’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and rich cultural past onto Google Maps, along with audio commentary, information on sites and the people who lives there, photos, and collaboratively produced videos.
L’Gau (The Wandering Island) (Michelle Angelica “Mica” Cabildo, Philippines, 2016)
Described as “part fiction, part online gallery, and part discursive publication,” L’Gau (The Wandering Island) is the story of one woman’s passage through the Dangerous Ground in the South China Sea. Despite being poorly charted, the Dangerous Ground is a major nautical trade route between the eastern Spratly Islands and Palawan Island. The sovereignty of many of the islands is disputed by Brunei, China, Philippines, Taiwan, and Viet Nam, due to their richness in fish and gas. L’Gau invites user to speculate about the meaning of histories that have been incompletely documented.
The River Runs Red (Isabelle Carbonell, Belgium/Uruguay/United States, 2018)
The River Runs Red documents waves of ecological and cultural devastation resulting from the collapse of a tailings (mine residue) dam, a common means of disposing of waste in iron-ore mines operated by Samarco Mineracao SA and owned by Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd. in Bento Rodrigues, Brazil. The documentary avoids the deception of pretending to offer the “whole story” and offers instead a multitude of stories that users must navigate and contemplate. In particular, it asks viewers to consider nonhuman perspectives. The interactive documentary also destabilizes human perspectives as necessarily one’s that need to be prioritized in the surviving multispecies ecosystems of our world.
The Shore Line (Liz Miller, United States/Canada, 2017)
Described as “a storybook for the future,” The Shore Line conveys ways that 43 people, living in the urban cities and remote islands of nine countries, have confronted the world’s problem of rising seas and violent storms due to global warming. Although the conditions affect all of us, they affect us in different ways. Users gain insights into ways that local populations who are most vulnerable, confront global problems. Unlike printed storybooks, this digitally-conceived one allows users to cross-reference stories from different parts of the world by sorting and sequencing content according to different parameters.
Dale Hudson is an associate professor of Film and New Media at New York University Abu Dhabi and digital curator for the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF). He is author of Vampires, Race, and Transnational Hollywoods (2017) and co-author of Thinking Through Digital Media: Transnational Environments and Locative Places (2015). His essays appear in Afterimage, American Quarterly, Cinema Journal, Jadaliyya, Screen, Studies in Documentary Film, Studies in South Asian Film and Media, and elsewhere.
Patricia R. Zimmermann is professor of Screen Studies at Ithaca College and codirector of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF). Her most recent books include Thinking Through Digital Media: Transnational Environments and Locative Places (2015), Open Spaces: Openings, Closings, and Thresholds of Independent Public Media (2016), The Flaherty: Decades in the Cause of Independent Film (2017), Open Space New Media Documentary: A Toolkit for Theory and Practice (2018), and Documentary Across Platforms: Reverse Engineering Media, Place, and Politics (2019).