Anthropomorphic expression in first-person natural history documentary

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Arts & Architecture


This paper argues a case for the first-person mode of address in natural history documentaries to better frame anthropomorphic interpretations by the viewer and enhance the filmmaker's creative potential. Four documentaries are analyzed to illustrate how forms of narration can influence anthropomorphic effect. I will evaluate 'March of the Penguins' (United States release) and discuss how the filmmaker's use of third-person, expository narration conceals a human bias in the documentary's rhetorical construction. This narration forces anthropocentric moments onto the non-human beings that often result in 'crude anthropomorphism,' while at the same time over-generalizing the non-human animal experience and scientific knowledge. I will also discuss how first-person narration in documentaries is able to highlight the human bias of the author by allowing her or his subjective preoccupations to drive the storyline. In this manner, the first-person author brings emotional complexity to the documentary through the human subject, rather than uncontextualized human emotions projected onto the non-human animal. I will investigate the ways in which a first-person narration allows for different techniques to move between objective and subjective viewpoints to reveal current scientific knowledge about and behavioral understandings of the non-human animal. To this end, I will examine three first-person natural history works: 'Of Penguins and Men', 'My Life as a Turkey', and my documentary film 'In the Land of Sea Turtles'. I argue that the first-person authors demonstrate greater conscientiousness to truth in the storylines chosen, values asserted, and scientific claims about non-human animals than the expository authors of 'March of the Penguins'.


In the land of sea turtles is a film that is part of the student's thesis project.



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