CALL FOR PAPERS for a Special Issue of Studies in World Cinema
Elemental World Cinema
Guest editors: Tiago de Luca and Matilda Mroz

Recent strands of ecocriticism have stressed the urgency in thinking about the environment on the basis of its elemental constitution rather than an amorphous ‘nature’ supposedly separate from humans (Macauley 2010; Cohen & Duckert 2015; Peters 2015). Superseded by atomism and particle physics, the four elements – air, earth, fire and water – reappear in these accounts as more concrete entities with which to recalibrate our interaction with the natural world in the so-called Anthropocene. This is the case especially as such elements have become the harbingers and carriers of ecological catastrophe in the form of atmospheric pollution, water contamination, uncontrollable mega-fires and land devastation. Inspired by this research, this special issue of Studies in World Cinema will investigate cinema’s interaction with the natural elements, and in so doing forge a much needed conversation between the fields of world cinema and ecocinema (Willoquet-Maricondi 2010; Rust et al. 2013; Ivakhiv 2013).

Cinema and the elements are indissolubly entwined. As John Durham Peters (2015) notes, the current concept of media as informational and communicational technologies obscures the fact that, up into the nineteenth century, the word medium was used to describe the natural elements as dynamic vessels and environments that sustain existence. The elements are always moving. For this very reason, when the first technological mass medium emerged at the end of that century – that is to say, cinema – it immediately nurtured an obsession with recording elemental shapes and forms: rippling waves, swirling dust, swaying foliage, as well as tornados, floods, cyclones and earthquakes. Whether in its gentle or ferocious manifestations, elemental vitalism asserted cinema’s medium-specific ability to capture the infinitely shape-shifting vagaries of motion (Schonig 2018; Beugnet 2017).

But cinema, as we know, would not be content with merely recording the world. Swiftly turned into a medium that builds story worlds, it began to artificially recreate the environment in purposefully built studios, channelling elements as resources for artificially created weather systems (McKim 2013; Fay 2018) and leaving its own ‘cinematic footprint’ (Bozak 2012) behind. This oscillation between capturing and fabricating, depending and acting upon the elements underpins the entire history of cinema, and yet an elemental history of world cinema is yet to be written.

This special issue hopes to contribute to such a task. It proposes to bring to the fore elements often deemed peripheral or ‘incidental’ (Vaughan 1999) to human action, a figure-ground reversal that can help us decentre humanity within the cinematic sensorium and imaginary. On the other hand, world cinema history is replete with films that have foregrounded and/or thematised the four elements, whether separately or combined. From Joris Ivens’s Rain (1929) to Alexander Dovzhenko’s Earth (1930), from Amir Naderi’s Water, Wind, Dust (1989) to Deepa Mehta’s elemental trilogy ( Fire, 1996; Earth, 1999; Water, 2005), from Andrei Tarkovsky (Bird 2008) to Naomi Kawase, from contemporary ‘slow cinema’ to ‘green’ documentaries, the elements make themselves present in cinematic world-making in a variety of utopian and dystopian configurations, and through diverse modes, genres and traditions. In its call for a rewriting of film history from an elemental standpoint, this special issue hopes to reconfigure the often abstract worldhood of world cinema into the very physical world we inhabit and upon which we – and cinema – depend for elementary survival.

We invite contributions related, but not exclusive to, the following topics:

  • Early cinema and the four elements
  • Cinema’s extraction of elemental resources
  • Cinema’s recording of elemental manifestations
  • Cinema’s fabrication of elemental processes
  • Philosophical approaches to elemental figurations in the cinema
  • The elements as harbingers of environmental collapse
  • Elemental activism and environmental (in)justice
  • Material feminisms and eco-feminist theory and filmmaking
  • Indigenous ecocinemas and philosophies
  • The elements and the Anthropocene in world cinema

Timeline for contributions:
Proposals, consisting of a title and a 3/400-word abstract + a short author’s bio, should be sent to t.de-luca@warwick.ac.uk and matilda.mroz@sydney.edu.au prior to 31 January 2022. Notifications of acceptance or non-acceptance will be sent out in late February.
The submission deadline for accepted, full articles (max 8,000 words) is 1 August 2022. All contributions will undergo double-blind peer review. Publication is planned for late spring 2023.
Any queries should be addressed to Tiago de Luca and Matilda Mroz (t.de-luca@warwick.ac.uk and matilda.mroz@sydney.edu.au).

Works cited:

  • Beugnet, Martine (2017) ‘Introduction’ in Martine Beugnet, Allan Cameron and Arild Fetveit (eds) Indefinite Visions: Cinema and the Attractions of Uncertainty. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 1-13.
  • Bird, Robert (2008) Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema. London: Reaktion Books.
  • Bozak, Nadia (2012) The Cinematic Footprint: Lights, Camera, Natural Resources. New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press.
  • Cohen, Jerome Jeffrey and Duckert, Lowell (eds.) (2015) Elemental Ecocriticism: Thinking with Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Fay, Jennifer (2018) Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Ivakhiv, Adrian J. (2013) Ecologies of the Moving Image: Cinema, Affect, Nature. Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.
  • Macauley, David (2010) Elemental Philosophy: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water as Environmental Ideas. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
  • McKim, Kristi (2013) Cinema as Weather: Stylistic Screens and Atmospheric Change. New York: Routledge.
  • Peters, John Durham (2015) The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
  • Rust, Stephen, Salma Monani and Sean Cubitt (eds.) (2013) Ecocinema Theory and Practice. New York and London: Routledge.
  • Schonig, Jordan (2018) ‘Contingent Motion: Rethinking the “Wind in the Trees” in Early Cinema and CGI’, Discourse 40:1, pp. 30–61
  • Vaughan, Dai (1999) For Documentary: Twelve Essays. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Willoquet-Maricondi, Paula (ed.) (2010) Framing the World: Explorations in Ecocriticism and Film. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press.
 

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