The personal essay film and large carnivores: moving beyond science in search of empathy and action

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Arts & Architecture


Despite their common usage in natural history documentary films, appeals based solely upon scientific facts, expert testimony, and rational arguments are not particularly effective at convincing audiences to change their opinions on controversial subjects. Psychologists argue that this is because humans tend to base our decisions on emotion and social affiliations; and therefore, working to find common ground and motive between opposing sides in an argument may be one of the strongest stances from which to start a useful discussion. This is a particularly important consideration when addressing large carnivore conservation because their management is so deeply rooted in our cultural beliefs and identities. I propose that personal essay films, focused on immersing their audiences as much as possible in the authentic experiences of a compelling protagonist, may be an effective way to begin opening up a viewer's opinions on a highly charged subject without directly attacking all of their most strongly held beliefs. Through analyzing representative personal documentary films, I highlight the importance of certain structural elements when trying to connect with an audience on an emotional level; such as letting the passionate protagonist tell their own story, including surprising and mysterious instances in the film, and not oversimplifying moments of indecision or confusion. Part of the Pack (2017), my autobiographical thesis film, attempts to put these insights into practice by inviting the audience to join in my experiences of living closely with captive wolves. My hope is that personal essay films like this can foster the type of emotional connection and common-ground thinking necessary for viewers to start empathizing with and promoting the conservation of large predators.


Part of the pack' is a film that is part of the student's thesis project.



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