Politische Ziele und ästhetische Strategien von Umweltdokumentarfilmen - Eine interdisziplinäre Annäherung
Since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been a boom in environmental documentary films in which the “ecological crisis” is illustrated, for example, by deficits in the food industry and livestock farming, food waste, climate change and biodiversity as well as the pros and cons of genetically modified food. Analysing the political goals and aesthetic strategies of such environmental documentaries was the objective of a three-day workshop at the Center of Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) at Bielefeld University in May 2019. Bridging the traditional gap between cultural studies and natural sciences by bringing together their respective disciplinary approaches was the overall ambition of the interdisciplinary working group: agricultural science and biology focussed on the production site of environmental knowledge, whilst media studies analysed aesthetic methods of communication. Ethical questions pertaining to the value of nature/environment or animal/human life were also discusse. As the conversation between the natural sciences and the cultural/media sciences was the main focus of the workshop, a methodology day was held immediately before the analysis of the films, initially presenting and comparing the approaches to the topic from the standpoints of the various disciplines: biology, agricultural science, cultural science (environmental humanities), media science, philosophy and, finally, from the point of view of the filmmakers themselves. During the following interdisciplinary discussions, the topics included whether films are, and aways should be, aesthetically designed to convey a specific moral message or whether they should essentially be informative. The analysis of the documentaries produced a consensus on the point that there is, in fact, a wide range of sophistication, complexity, aesthetic quality and affective power in the films. The normative question as to the educational role of documentary films, by contrast, proved controversial: Should films present as balanced a pro and contra as possible and inform impartially or should they use moral arguments to take a stance, engender a sustainable community and thus themselves play a political role? The working group paid particular attention to exploring the natural science, cultural science and media science aspects of one particular documentary, TASTE THE WASTE (2010), as the director, Valentin Thurn, participated in the workshop and had agreed to hold a public lecture one evening. All in all, an interdisciplinary discussion of the individual documentaries proved very advantageous and rewarding: When the same film material offers the opportunity, on the one hand, to map out whether and, potentially, how facts are distorted or wrongly presented whilst, on the other, revealing the audio-visual means that are used to control emotions and, finally, uncovering the value judgements that tacitly underpin the piece, the knowledge deriving from the expertise of the individual disciplines flows into a dialogue that is indispensable for answering questions on media practice and social responsibility.