Narrating Nature: Environmental Issues & the Documentary Arts

Instructor: Miguel Rojas Sotelo. PhD  | offered every year: LatAmer 315S, Environment 315S, DocSt 315S, Cine 315S, VMS 309S

No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls. They are how we make meaning of life. Call them schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, metaphors, or narratives. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.” — Pamela Rutledge, Director, Media Psychology Research Center. UC Irvine.       


Documentary (non-fiction) research-based films, photo essays, radio documentaries, hypermedia documents, and long-form analytical narratives shed light on our world. They portray the environment – real people, events, and situations – with an aesthetic sensibility that transforms these depictions into compelling statements about all aspects of our environmental, social, cultural, political, and economic lives. In the course of a couple of generations we have managed to raise the temperature of an entire planet and to knock its most basic systems out of kilter. Although we know about it, we don’t know about it. It hasn’t registered in our gut; it isn’t part of our culture (yet). Art, like religion, is one of the ways we digest what is happening, and proceed to action.

The aim of this course is to evaluate and illustrate how documentary film and other media can help communicate, critique, and educate the public about the complex environmental and social issues of our times. Students will analyze how environmental and social issues are presented through different audiovisual forums covering topics such as Environmental Justice; Pollution; Forestry & Conservation; Landscape; Energy; Nature; and Mining from Asia, Latin America, and the US, and will investigate how environmental/social activism and communication is enhanced (or hindered) through these modes of creative visual expression.

See some of the work produced by the course: YOUTUBE NARRATING NATURE