Never Before Seen: Spectacle, Staging, and Story in Wildlife Film's Blue-Chip Renaissance
Louson, Eleanor MacLeod
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The topic of this dissertation is wildlife film and its representation of animal behaviour. I identify a blue-chip renaissance of wildlife documentary filmmaking in the early twenty-first century featuring conventional natural history subject matter, stunning visuals, unprecedented costs, an extended rhetoric of authenticity, and an emphasis on novel footage of animal behaviour. The blue-chip renaissance is a fertile site for investigating wildlife films as hybrid objects, as these films inhabit a set of major conceptual tensions between nature and culture; entertainment and education; and authenticity and artifice. In a review of extant literature (Chapter 1) I examine how those conceptual boundaries have been permeable and productive for scholars of wildlife film and related topics in multiple disciplines, motivating this dissertations interdisciplinary approach. I argue in Chapter 2 that the blue-chip renaissances visual spectacle is not an entertaining impediment to education, but rather a route to immersion and affective knowing, drawing from the legacy of natural history display. In Chapter 3, I analyze working filmmakers attitudes about staging practices in wildlife documentaries, a controversial topic that influences their professional identity as storytellers and observers of nature. Chapter 4 offers a taxonomy of the representation within the blue-chip renaissance and its authoritative public demonstration of nature, arguing that these films model and simulate a variety of real and theoretical entities and processes. In Chapter 5, I show that the authenticity of the blue-chip renaissances portrayal of nature is predicated on the extensive use of behind-the-scenes making-of documentaries employing observational realism. I conclude by exploring the challenges of locating any definitive cultural impacts of wildlife films, and offer instead directions for further research into wildlife films as experienced science communication.