Imaginative embodiment : a strategy for incorporating nonhuman agency in nature films
Roqueta, Edward Michael.
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The natural history filmmaking genre is the primary strand of documentary cinema that features narratives about wildlife, the environment, and nature issues. However, the genre has adopted storytelling and filmmaking conventions that express anthropocentrism, a hierarchical worldview that values human rationality and morality as superior to nonhuman nature. Natural history films tend to either negatively anthropomorphize animals by projecting uniquely human emotions or morals onto them (anthropomorphic error) as a way to increase view identification, or avoid anthropomorphism altogether in favor of objective human-perspective narration that depicts nonhuman nature as mechanistic and void of any creative, intentional, or active experience. In this paper I argue how imaginative embodiment, or anthropomorphizing a nonhuman with an informed and expressed attentiveness to their biology and sensory capacities, can be a useful strategy that gives agency to animals in film while committing minimal anthropomorphic error. I use the films, GREEN (2011), Bear 71 (2012), and my thesis film SUN BEAR (2015) as case studies to explore how cinematic language and voiceover narration imaginative embodiment strategies can be crafted in ways that express the point of view, intentionality, and agency of nonhuman others in an ethical manner. Imaginatively embodying an animal through cinematic language and voiceover narration allows viewers to ethically consider the moral status of a nonhuman other without having to negatively anthropomorphize them, describe them as being human like, or lose their agency and intentional stance in objectifying scientific language. An ethically important aspect of using imaginative embodiment to tell stories of the natural world is that it supports an environmental ethic that appreciates the vast entanglement of agentive life forces and helps to abolish repressive human-animal or culture-nature binaries in favor of an environmental ethic expressive of biocentric sensibilities. As the natural history genre of documentary filmmaking continues its evolution as the major media outlet representing, educating, and telling stories about nature, wildlife, and environmental issues, imaginative embodiment can be a useful tool for incorporating agentive first-person nonhuman experiences in non-fiction cinema.