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Masterclass - Water, Climate and Film

The masterclass ‘Water, Climate, and Film’, led by Jennifer Lynn Peterson (Woodbury University), will look back at the theme of the 6th Eye International Conference / 20th Orphan Film Symposium ‘Water, Climate, and Migration’ (2020, online).

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What can archival films teach us about the history of global warming? Can silent films featuring water, volcanoes, plants, birds, and other natural phenomena help raise ecological awareness today? Can film history, which abounds with images of the Earth’s systems, help us understand the threat we are now facing?

One of the challenges of coming to terms with climate change and mass extinction is the immensity of the problems. Film, with its unparalleled ability to direct and focus our attention, provides opportunities to bring the climate crisis down to a human scale.

This richly illustrated masterclass and film programme on the Eye Film Player (for free) will explore the ways in which films depicting nature from 100 years ago can help us understand the ways in which it is being altered today, and the urgent necessity of changing course.

Film programme

The film programme on the Eye Film Player includes eight short nonfiction films from the 1910s and 20s depicting landscapes and animals. Water is an important theme running through the screening, which opens with a travelogue that lingers on crashing ocean waves in the South of France. Next, the earth's geological vitality is depicted in a fascinating early film about the origin of life on earth and the evolution of species, and in dramatic newsreel footage of the 1926 Tokachi volcano eruption in Japan.

Resource extraction is another theme, as shown in a film depicting polar bear hunting in the Arctic ocean and a film about logging in North America. Two quieter nature films are also featured, one a compilation of three color-tinted insect films, the other a beautiful stencil-colored film of birds in West Africa. The program closes by returning to water with a travelogue depicting a rushing river in the Pyrenees mountains.

Together, these eight films from Eye Filmmuseum’s collection convey a sense of how nature was envisioned one hundred years ago. Screening curated by film scholar Jennifer Lynn Peterson. Music by Martin de Ruiter.

Jennifer Lynn Peterson is the author of Education in the School of Dreams: Travelogues and Early Nonfiction Film (Duke University Press, 2013). Her scholarly articles have been published in the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Feminist Media Histories, Camera Obscura, Moving Image, Getty Research Journal, and numerous edited collections. She has published film, art, and book reviews in Millennium Film Journal, Film Quarterly, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and She is currently Professor and Chair of the Communication program at Woodbury University in Los Angeles. Her book-in-progress, Cinema’s Ecological Past: Film History, Nature, and Endangerment Before 1960, is under contract for publication by Columbia University Press.


Part of

Eye International Conference 2021

In lieu of the 2021 edition of the Eye International Conference, cancelled due to Covid-19, Eye presents two online masterclasses looking back and ahead at the previous and upcoming Eye International Conference.

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