Visible Evidence 2021

Nontheatrical Film and the Settler Colo­nial State: Conser­vation, Tourism, and Resource Cinemas

Jennifer Lynn Peterson
Dominique Brégent-Heald
Rachel Webb Jekanowski
Respondent: Mona Damluji
Wed, Dec 15
90 Min
Mousonturm (Rehearsal 2), Online
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Conservation and the State: Film and the U.S. National Park Service

Although environmental politics are often associated with progressive traditions of protest and revolt, many of the large-scale material successes of environmental conservation (habitat preservation, environmental law, economic policy) have been imposed through the forces of state hegemony. The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) is one example of a massive state institution that has preserved large swaths of land for wilderness conservation; in so doing, it also engaged in the systematic removal of Native American tribes from their ancestral lands. The NPS has served a symbolic function as an emblem of American nature conservation; in turn, its model of Indigenous displacement has been copied by other National Parks around the world. The U.S. federal government began making films about its National Parks in the 1920s, first through the Washington, DC film lab of the U.S.D.A. Extension Service, and later in the NPS’s own Division of Motion Pictures. Based on research I have conducted at the National Archives in College Park, MD, this talk will briefly explore the mythologizing work of the NPS through an analysis of the bureau’s nontheatrical filmmaking practices in the 1920s and 30s. These films articulated what I call a “state ideology of nature” that used the rhetoric of the early twentieth century conservation movement to justify and promote its settler colonial practices. This process of turning scenic landscapes into tourist destinations can be understood as a form of second-order resource extraction, harvesting scenery in the service of marketing and public relations on behalf of the state.

Jennifer Lynn Peterson

Jennifer Lynn Peterson is the author of Education in the School of Dreams: Travelogues and Early Nonfiction Film (Duke UP, 2013). Her scholarly articles have been published in JCMS, Feminist Media Histories, Camera Obscura, Moving Image, Getty Research Journal, and numerous edited collections. She has published film, art, and book reviews in Millennium Film Journal, Film Quarterly, LA Review of Books, and She is currently Professor and Chair of the Media Studies Department at Woodbury University in Los Angeles. Her book-in-progress, Cinema’s Ecological Past: Film History, Nature, and Endangerment Before 1960, is under contract for publication by Columbia University Press.

The Summer Tourist Program: Nontheatrical Film and Government-Sponsored Postwar Tourism Promotion

Beginning in the summer of 1948, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) launched free screenings of government-sponsored 16mm color motion pictures on Canadian subjects at major tourist points throughout the country, most notably in National Parks. The NFB targeted this program to American tourists already vacationing in Canada to encourage them to plan return trips to other parts of the country. Government officials wagered that an influx of American tourist dollars could help mitigate the ongoing currency shortage. The NFB dubbed this innovative approach the Summer Tourist Program (STP), which by 1959 averaged 12,000 shows annually to an audience of 1,000,000 viewers. Its success was attributed to an unprecedented level of cooperation amongst federal agencies (i.e. the NFB, the Canadian Government Travel Bureau, and the National Parks Branch) and various provincial governments.

Drawing from archival research, this presentation examines the broader economic and political contexts of the STP. While the NFB was best known for a documentary approach to filmmaking that seemed anathema to the travelogue genre, the film board increased its production/sponsorship of tourism promotion films and expanded its nontheatrical distribution networks both within Canada and the United States against a backdrop of mounting Cold War tensions. The presentation also considers the ways in which travel and wildlife short subjects screened as part of the STP reinforced settler-colonial narratives about the environment, human-nonhuman animal interactions, and constructed myths of nationhood through claims of legitimacy and development.

Dominique Brégent-Heald

Dominique Brégent-Heald is an Associate Professor of History at Memorial University of Newfoundland. She is the author of Borderland Films: The American Cinema, Mexico, and Canada During the Progressive Era (University of Nebraska Press, 2015). She has published articles in such journals as Western Historical Quarterly, Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television, The Canadian Journal of Film Studies, and The Journal of Canadian Studies. She is currently working on a history of film and tourism in Canada during the first half of the twentieth century.

Image, Water, Power: Sponsored Filmmaking and the Churchill Falls Project in Labrador

As early as the 1940s, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and the independent production company Crawley Films produced industrial, scientific, and educational films about natural resource management, mining, and exploratory drilling in Canada. Such films sought to make legible the financial and symbolic value of the continent’s natural resources to Canadian settler culture, while promoting their profitable development within the context of postwar modernization. In this talk, I examine two examples of what I term “resource cinema” (Jekanowski 2018) about hydroelectric developments in Labrador. Power in Perpetuity: The Churchill Falls Project (dir. Sally MacDonald, 1967) and Power from Labrador (1970) were both produced by Crawley Films and sponsored by Churchill Falls Corporation—a joint venture between Nalcor Energy and Hydro-Québec. The former was also distributed by the NFB. In documenting the Churchill Falls Hydro-Electric Development Project, both films negotiate the tensions between Indigenous presence and land claims along the Churchill (formerly, Grand) River and southern Canadian demands for plentiful electricity. Using textual analysis and archival research, I situate these films within a larger exploration of settler cinema’s entanglements with extractive capitalism (Limbrick 2010; Turner 2014). In light of the Muskrat Falls Generating Project on the Lower Churchill River (2013-present), and the 2015 court proceedings against the Labrador Land Protectors, these two films offer fertile grounds for re-examining historical imaginaries of water and power and changing notions of sustainability.

Rachel Webb Jekanowski

Dr. Rachel Webb Jekanowski is an interdisciplinary scholar working across film and media studies and the environmental/energy humanities. Dr. Jekanowski is an incoming Assistant Professor at Memorial University – Grenfell, on the ancestral lands of the Mi’kmaq, Beothuk, Innu, and Inuit (Newfoundland and Labrador). She is developing a book project on nontheatrical and documentary filmmaking entitled Cinemas of Extraction: Land, Resources, Settler Imaginaries.

Respondent: Mona Damluji

Mona Damluji is Assistant Professor of Film & Media Studies at UCSB and producer of the documentary series The Secret Life of Muslims. Her work engages media histories of oil and infrastructure with a focus on the Middle East and its diasporas. Mona’s current book project Pipeline Cinema is a history of how multinational petroleum companies shaped cultural norms and popular imaginaries of oil and the Middle East through film and media sponsorship in the 20th century. Her publications appear in Urban History; Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East; International Journal of Islamic Architecture, and more.