Issue #4 - Ecocinema Edition

For as long as I could remember, I’ve always been interested in environmental communication. I’ve written a consideration amount on this topic long before this issue. As you know, films really interest me, especially environmental cinema. Ecocinema is a pretty new term used to put environmental films in an acceptable category. Ecocinema is a film art form that manifests in both fiction and nonfiction with the purpose of educating and disseminating environmentally conscious messages through film, one of the most easily accessible media forms today.

I want to bring you closer to a new way to look at films, something you probably don’t consider on a regular basis when you watch an ecofilm. Some of the ideas I pose may or may not sink in well with you, but if you give it a chance, you’ll see that it’s quite a unique way to look at it.

I wanted to thank Chandra, Efrain and Royal for their wonderful contributions. I also want to thank Frank Eyeson for his continued support and for the work he’s put into this issue. It’s been a pleasure to write about The 11th Hour, Age of Stupid, and especially The Cove. These are but a few environmental films that we’re seeing today and I suspect that there will be more like them in the future. For now, we can take pleasure knowing that such conscious minds exist to help us get through our impending ecological disaster.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, it’s a great honor and pleasure! We hope you join us for our next edition!


Sufi Mohamed
Editor-in-Chief of

Topics of this Issue

Key topics of this issue include anthropocentrism, documentary theory, environmental ethics, ecoterrorism and fear appeals. In this issue, I hope to answer some of these questions:

  1. What is fear and when is it not effective?
  2. Why have documentarians relied on fear almost exclusively?
  3. What makes documentary the genre for disseminating information?
  4. Can you really trust a documentary? What difficulties does it have conveying its message?
  5. What is environmental ethics? Does nature have an intrinsic purpose and beauty or is it man who gives it these qualities?
  6. What is anthropocentrism and why has it made our lives difficult today? Can we really overcome our selfish needs and put nature first? How long have we held this perspective and why? Who were those that helped to build this worldview?
  7. Why is The 11th Hour and The Age of Stupid an example of two ineffective documentaries? Why couldn’t they persuade you and what could they have done differently?
  8. What makes The Cove so special? Why is it largely more effective and powerful? What strategies has Psihoyos used to convince us about the urgency of putting an end to the cove?


Climate change has reached an almost irreversible state, a consequence brought on by a myriad of issues: over-consumption, overpopulation, unsustainable lifestyles, deforestation, unprecedented land development, air and water pollution, market failure, irresponsible irrigation, toxic pollutants, global warming, the global economy, species extinction, etc… (Donohoe, 2003). 

An external viewpoint would consider these issues beyond the scope of any solution, the tactile strategies, both pragmatic and theoretic, are beyond the scope of human ingenuity; however, environmentalists unanimously agree that the current, central root problem to the environmental crisis can be resolved by recognizing the futility of the anthropocentric worldview.

Anthropocentrism is a view that regards humanity as the center of all existence. Immanuel Kant, a highly regarded and prominent philosopher, stated, “Man … is the ultimate purpose of creation here on Earth” (Kant, 1914), a viewpoint that has permeated across human consciousness of man and his relationship with nature.

What is Ecocinema?

Ecocinema is a film art form that manifests in both fiction and nonfiction with the purpose of educating and disseminating environmentally conscious messages through the use of film, one of the most easily accessible media forms today. Unlike ecocriticism, analysis of ecological messages embedded in literary texts, ecocinema has largely been ignored in academic research and, consequently, presents a challenge for this undertaking. With certainty there have been few publications that have investigated ecocinema, but none have analysed the evolution of the documentary form leading to the birth of a powerful, highly effective ecocinema experience that this essay argues is a direct manifestation of the urgency and desperation of documentarians to address climate change.

Basics of Documentary Theory

Documentary is a highly reflective genre used to expose truths and describe the intricate world in a comprehensive linear fashion for the audience. Documentary is a discursive text that provides first-hand experience in an engaging way despite the pressures that confound its creation. Documentaries have always been a source of comfort for those seeking the truth for two reasons: the raw textures and sequences in documentaries give the illusion that it is conveying an unaltered world; second, documentaries do not deploy fictionalized elements. Based on this dilemma and relative to debates about the “real”, core beliefs of a documentaries are based on a “fraud”, a false pretense and claim of the real as the ultimate truth despite those dilemmas and moral issues they represent.

Environmental Ethics

Eco-documentaries argue that protecting the environment is man’s moral responsibility, to cherish nature for its intrinsic value and beauty that remains inexplicable remaining beyond the dominion of man. Environmental ethics will provide an excellent basis for understanding why fear appeals are so often used in environmental discourse. Environmental ethics has had an old and timely history, but its prevalence accelerated in philosophy during the 1960s (McShane, 2009). Environmentalists argue that the traditional worldview is maladaptive and a new consciousness and perspective was necessary to deter total environmental apocalypse.


Ecological terrorists, or ecoterrorists, are individuals who engage in independent (or within a small cell unit) acts of violence and employ tactics that are commonly used by terrorists for the purpose of securing a sociopolitical agenda in order to protect animal rights and, more generally, the environment (Department of Homeland Security, 2008). The ecoterrorist movement is largely decentralized and transnational, driven by the motives of people around the world who believe that they have a moral obligation to protect the environment by whatever means necessary. They argue that current and traditional methods of environmental conservation and protection have fallen victim to bureaucratic and inefficient means, complicated by procedures and standards, which prevent them from becoming agents of change.

Anatomy of Fear

The fear appeal consists of a relatively complex process involving various uncertainties. The EPPM framework describes response tendencies; it does not attribute categories of responses in a rigid way. An appropriate threat level coupled with sound secondary components of threat, it is possible that an adequate or desired response can be achieved. Fear appeal messages need to be constructed properly, and, much like a logical syllogism, clear and precise statements are at the heart of an effective message. This issue contends that satirical films (e.g. 2012 (2009)) that take fear appeals lightly may do more harm than actually presenting a sound argument for ecological preservation.

The Films in Question

The 11th Hour (2007)

The 11th Hour (“Hour”) (2007), released shortly after An Inconvenient Truth (2006), was directed by Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Petersen and co-produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. The intent Hour is to encourage greater environmental awareness and convince the audience to relinquish their complacent attitudes in order to become active participants in environmental conservation. Some critics have argued that Hour is merely a reiteration of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006), except without a personal narrative and more scientific evidence. Al Gore undoubtedly influenced DiCaprio, who, together, were in cooperation fighting a united front demanding environmentally conscious behavior. DiCaprio has always been a hardcore environmentalist and philanthropist, and has amassed tremendous credibility and respect by other environmentalists.

The Age of Stupid (2009)

Age of Stupid (2009) (“Age”) directed by Franny Armstrong is an expression of highly active groups demanding ecological change.  Age is an atypical form of documentary genre, unlike Hour, it is not a “talking heads” documentary. Along the continuum of documentary genres, Age is considered a docudrama, employing a combination of fictional and traditional documentary narratives. Age is set after the 11th hour has ended for the last time and has become impossible to effect environmental change; in a way, Age depicts an Earth Stephen Hawking prophesized in Hour. Taking advantage of docudrama, Age experiments with futuristic scenes of an apocalyptic doomed Earth and that it appears only one man is left to preserve the legacy of humans, the archivist. Using a digital monitor, the archivist touches the screen and reminisces the Age of Stupid, man’s pinnacle opportunity for lasting environmental change hindered only by his self-interested stupidity.

The Cove (2009)

In a virtually unknown lagoon in Japan lies one of the most disturbing secrets. Ric O’Barry, known for having captured and trained five dolphins for the hit television series Flipper (1964-1967), embarks on a mission of redemption to ensure the safety of every captive dolphin he could find. With the help of Psihoyos, highly advanced cameras, two world-class freedivers, O’Barry journeys to the heart of the “kill zone”. Cove reminds the audience about the significance of their mission and binds them with O’Barry to disclose the unjust slaughter of dolphins. O’Barry must maintain a low profile, although his very presence alerts Taiji authorities.

Keywords: ecocinema, ecological cinema, ecofilms, environmental cinema, The Cove, The 11th Hour, The Age of Stupid

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