Call for Papers

Cinema, Nature, Ecology
University of Chicago
Committee on Cinema and Media Studies
Graduate Student Conference
April 3 & 4, 2009

300-word paper abstracts due January 4, 2009. Please send abstracts by email to

For up-to-date conference information, please see our website:

Downloadable Call For Papers (PDF)

Recent films such as An Inconvenient Truth and The Day After Tomorrow reflect urgent and ongoing public discourse on global warming, natural and human ecology, and green activism.  When we consider not only filmmaking, but other immersive media (from the virtual worlds of Second Life to large-scale installations from artists like Christo and Jean-Claude or Tadashi Kawamata), it is clear that the impact of these practices on the environmental imagination is profound.  However, this timely discourse should not obscure the rich tradition concerned with the relation between cinema, nature, and the environment.  From the beginnings of film theory and film practice, the cinema has been imagined as transformative for the relationship between humanity and nature.  This transformation is at the heart of this conference.

Cinema, Nature, Ecology will bring together scholars working on a diverse but deeply interrelated set of questions in the domains of the history, theory, and practice of cinema and other experiential media.  We especially welcome papers that will engage with the transformative power of these practices, and investigate how these transformations–whether psychological, biological, geological, or physical–have been conceptualized at different points in time.  How should we think of cinema and other technologies within the context of ecological and evolutionary theory?  What is an environment?  What sorts of possibilities for re-imagining “environment” are on offer in immersive technologies such as cinema, the panorama, and virtual environments?  How have different media technologies, from pre-cinematic optical toys to new media practices, changed the possibilities for interactions between humans and nature?

We are proud to announce that our keynote speaker for Cinema, Nature, Ecology will be Hanna Rose Shell, Society of Fellows, Harvard University, and assistant professor of Science & Technology Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor Shell has a book forthcoming in 2009 with Zone Books, Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance. She is also a practicing filmmaker and media artist. Her work includes the video installation Aqua Kinema (commissioned in 2005 by ZKM) and the co-directed 24-minute experimental documentary Secondhand (Pepe) (2007).

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

Nature and film theory

  • Cinema and the (re)mediation of nature in classical film theory (Balazs, Epstein, Bazin, Kracauer, etc.)
  • Natural history, mimesis, and the Frankfurt School and critical theory
  • Cinema, ontology, history, and geological deep time
  • Vitalism and the cinema (Bergson, Deleuze)

Nature and cinema practice

  • Nature, special effect, and spectacle
  • Landscape, aesthetics, and nature in cinema
  • Animals and the natural world in animation (Disney, Miyazaki)
  • Environmental disasters/utopias (The Day After Tomorrow, Jurassic Park, Baraka)

Ecology, the environment, and cinema

  • Ecological psychology, phenomenology, and media aesthetics
  • Ecocritical approaches to film and media
  • Large-format cinema, surround sound, immersion, and environmental technologies
  • Cinema, architecture, and the built environment (e.g. Situationism)

Cinema, media, and nature

  • Visual media, perceptual devices, experimental psychology, and neuroscience
  • Aesthetics and imaging technologies (electron microscopy, medical imaging, astronomical imaging)
  • Virtual environments and virtual environmentalism (from first-person shooters to Second Life and beyond)