Disturbance in the garden : toward a new portrayal of wildfire in science and natural history films
Roberts, Jeremy Russell.
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Science has proven that wildfire has a positive rejuvenating effect on many ecosystems, creating new habitat and bolstering global biodiversity. Despite growing scientific understanding of wildfire over the past 100 years, science and natural history films repeatedly position wildfire merely to achieve dramatic effect. These films typically ignore the available science and in many cases contradict scientific truth outright for the sake of the dramatic narrative. Formulaic conventions developed by Walt Disney and various societal convictions are responsible for the perpetuation of old narrative devices that condemn fire. Science and natural history films reach tens of millions of people each year and shape public opinion of forest fires. These films have perpetuated the myth of Eden, the damning of wildfire, and the valorization of total fire suppression, all of which have had social, political, and economic ramifications. To help align public perception of fire with the current scientific understanding of fire, producers of science and natural history films must redirect their narrative devices that traditionally demonize fire to create a new Eden, one borne of fire. Disturbance represents a new model for the portrayal of wildfire in science and natural history films by employing drama to advance an appreciation of burned forests while avoiding narrative pitfalls that traditionally condemn fire. By combining observational and expository filmmaking modes, Disturbance also offers a new model for conservation-based science and natural history films, a model that incorporates society into nature and conservation into society.