Anthropogenic Futures: Communicating environmental crisis

Monday 28 August 2017 2.00 to 6.00pm

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Level 6 Seminar Room, Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney


A workshop with filmmakers, Gregg Mitman and Juan Francisco Salazar

This event is sponsored by and run in partnership with the Understanding Australia in the Age of Humans: Localising the Anthropocene Discovery Project.

This workshop will include a screening of Gregg Mitman’s The Land Beneath Our Feet and a screening of Juan Francisco Salazar’s Nightfall on Gaia (2015). 

The Land Beneath Our Feet weaves together rare archival footage from a 1926 Harvard expedition to Liberia with the journey of a young Liberian man, uprooted by war, seeking to understand how the past has shaped land conflicts in his country today. This film is an explosive reminder of how large-scale land grabs are transforming livelihoods across the planet. Directed by Sarita Siegel and Gregg Mitman (2016, 60 min). 

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Gregg Mitman is the Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History of Science, Medical History, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is an award-winning author, filmmaker, and teacher, whose interests span the history of science, medicine, and the environment in the United States and the world, and reflect a commitment to environmental and social justice.

His recent works include Documenting the World: Film, Photography, and the Scientific Record (University of Chicago Press, 2016), Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape our Lives and Landscapes (Yale University Press, 2007), and Reel Nature: America’s Romance with Wildlife on Film, rev. ed. (University of Washington Press, 2009). Mitman is the founding director of the Nelson Institute’s Center for Culture, History and Environment, and is also past president of the American Society for Environmental History.


Nightfall on Gaia
In April 2043, astrobiologist Xue Noon [Victoria Hunt] finds herself stranded in the GAIA International Antarctic Station. As the polar night closes in, she connects herself to the Ai-system. She scavenges digital memories and archives of the time she spent at King George Island with her father back in 2015. She struggles between her scientist mind and her Indigenous soul. She looks for old friends, places, atmospheres, only to find herself again. Nightfall on Gaia is a speculative documentary that depicts the lives and visions of human communities living transiently in the Antarctic Peninsula. Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Antarctica between 2011 and 2014, the film is an experimental meditation on the future of the Antarctic as a new extreme frontier for human habitation, exposing the complexities of a fragile planet at the verge of ecological collapse, our relationship to the Ice, and the uncertain future for the region.

Director’s statement
I have lived most of my life at latitude 33˚South. First in Buenos Aires (1971-1980), then Santiago (1980-1982 & 1986-1998) and Sydney (1998-2015). Antarctica was always somewhere inside there when growing up in the turbulent 1970’s and early 1980’s in Chile and Argentina. But in 2010 while recovering from surgery I became fascinated by Antarctica again. In 2011 I began discovering polar latitudes both south and north. New worlds opened up which led to a brusque change in the orientation of my work. Four years in the making and after three summer expeditions to the Ice, Nightfall on Gaia was completed. In these years I have learned that Antarctic communities are not locally rooted in places, but translocally routed across places. There is an emergent Antarctic culture which is not place-bound (roots) but are mobile in nature (routes). They derive their identity from connections to a variety of places and they come here to Antarctica to explore the elusive qualities of this place … always in a constant process of becoming otherwise and elsewhere as people come and go and ecosystems change. The stories about this place and people, about its animals and icebergs, microorganisms of soil and ocean are told in the mode of a speculative fabulation. This is just one possible story so far. It proposes an alternative realism where fact and fiction converge to bring into dialogue the probable, the possible and the preferred futures for this southern polar region. as a speculative documentary film it attempts to open up what documentaries can do: not only a creative treatment of actuality to represent the past and document the present, but a creative treatment of possibility to speculate about possible and desired futures.

Juan Francisco Salazar is an anthropologist and filmmaker with interests in critical Indigenous media studies, environmental humanities, documentary film and cultural research in Antarctica and Antarctic gateway cities. He is Associate Professor in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts and Research Director at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University. His last film is the feature length experimental documentary Nightfall on Gaia (2015) and his latest book is the co-edited volume Anthropology and futures: researching emerging and uncertain worlds (Bloomsbury, 2017).