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Amphibious Screens

From January to April 2022, Prof Joanne Garde-Hansen led an international series of seminars to develop a new research area: the impact of film and television production and representation on water-based communities. Funded by Warwick's Research Development Fund they created a transnational network of research seminars of collaboration between researchers from the UK, USA, Finland, Iceland and Italy. Researchers of film, television and screen cultures and environmental sciences discussed with industry professionals and regional environmental sectors the subject of sustainable screen production in water-based locations. Four culturally and historically significant locations with precarious water histories were selected. The four seminars explored the impact of repeated screen productions and the rapid growth of creative industries on water ecosystems through a focus on Hollywood’s pollution of water in Miami, USA; the exploitation of ice landscapes in Reykjavik, Iceland; the ‘Poldark effect ‘in Cornwall, UK; and the submergence, on and off screen, of Venice, Italy. We addressed the legacy of screen production that informs cultural perceptions of the environment alongside the sustainability of screen industries and the creativity of filmmakers. The case studies are below and the short film trailers of seminars are opposite, and our invited participants are listed. The research has continued with the Policy Support Funded Sustainable Cultural Production in Cornwall project led by Prof Rachel Moseley.

Case Study 1: Miami Blockbuster Movies and Activist Media From the Everglades to the Reefs
led by Hunter Vaughan, University of Cambridge

Wedged between two of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems in the world (the Everglades and the barrier reef), Miami is a highly developed urban and tourist space with a transitory population and a cultural identity and social fabric spread over millennia of Indigenous, colonial, and immigrant populations. Marine biomes and relational values are deeply endemic, and the coastal and marine pursuits of boating, fishing, diving, and beach-going guaranty a high degree of preservationism, which itself is countered by excessive housing development, transport pollution, and ecosystem disruption. The area was a key site for marine amusement park development in the postwar era, with the 1955 opening of the Miami Seaquarium marking a crucial benchmark in the intersection between local marine interests, capitalist exploitation of aquatic wildlife, and a boom in forms of entertainment reliant on new underwater cinematographic technologies. A hub for mobile film and television production due to its clement weather, clear water, and economic ease, this mecca of underwater cinematography has sprouted a micro-industry of media practitioners whose pivotal position between film industry and local ecosystem has been fraught with contradiction, constantly balancing a fine line between environmental protection and entertainment media. By 2000, Miami-Dade County was responsible for half of the state’s media production, having enticed popular franchises Bad Boys and The Fast and the Furious as well as a number of other films and television shows. Preceded by the slow growth of a state rebate program initiated in 2003, the Entertainment Industry Economic Development Act passed in 2010, allocating $242million in tax rebates and credits over the following five years, which drew enough production to Miami to place it third in national media production behind L.A. and New York. Moreover, due to Miami’s demographic diversity and proximity to the Caribbean, it also became the focal node for Latin American and Spanish-language media. This seminar explored the values that the area’s marine ecosystems bring to the screen industry, the impacts of that industry on those ecosystems, and how the two might work together in coming years to mitigate the threats of marine ecosystem de-stabilization and sea level rise.

Case Study 2: Elemental Iceland: Green Production in a Globalized Non-Place
led by Pietari Kaapa, University of Warwick

The watery topography of the Icelandic media ecosystem provides unique possibilities for ecocritical perspectives on screen media. Not only does water envelop the Icelandic landmass it also interacts with the constantly morphing volcanic activity of the island’s geological constitution. Water is a key resource providing both sustenance and employment as well as being the dominant component of Iceland’s energy infrastructure (with hydropower providing up to 73% of total domestic energy). Water is not only a key component of the Icelandic cultural, social, economic, and political ecosystem, but an essential part of its cinematic imaginary as well its media production infrastructure.

The Icelandic screen media industry currently thrives on both an image of ‘Cool Icelandia’ with esoteric impressions of the country utilized for cultural capital. At the same time, Iceland operates as a globalized ‘non-place’ for mobile productions (including major Hollywood blockbusters seeking dystopian landscapes or TV shows using harsh exoticism like Game of Thrones). This balance between a localised context and a dysmorphic multi-purpose landscape is especially reliant on elemental water (including water as steam and ice). The second case study seminar of the Amphibious Screens project featured filmmakers, environmental managers, academics and educators to evaluate the ways water forms a part of Iceland’s cultural imaginary and how it is used as a production resource.

Case Study 3: Coastal Cultures: British Film and Television on Sea – Cornwall, UK
led by Rachel Moseley and Gemma Goodman, University of Warwick

While Cornwall has typically been pictured on screen as a picturesque, quasi-tropical coastal edge, with sparkling blue water and golden sand, the material and experiential reality for the region is quite distinct. The impact of screen industries on water ecosystems was apparent in the production of Poldark (2015--) in Cornwall, as local water supply was affected by the increase in tourism. Recently, UK leadership from the Albert Sustainable Production Certification for screen industries and the launch of the Screen New Deal (2020) by the British Film Institute and Arup, have made clear that the water demands of these industries (supply, potability, cooling and sanitation) are unsustainable within studios. Yet, the impact on water goes far beyond the studio as many marine, coastal, riverine communities depend upon the projection of a ‘watery sense of place-image’ as the lynchpin of cultural tourism, trading on their screen legacy. This seminar, with stakeholders in Cornwall, discussed the representation of coastal cultures, the rapid growth of film and television industries that seek coastal locations, the role of communities who are not engaged in the screen production process, and its impact on their water ecosystems. Despite the scale and urgency of the problem of climate risk and resilience, communities close to water (rivers, lakes, seas, lagoons and oceans) often appear inundated with production crews, to the extent that their heritage and culture are increasingly determined by their screen representation.

Case Study 4: Venice Submerged Screens and Survival of the City
led by Ifor Ducan, Ca' Foscari University Venice

In Venice water and land are co-constitutive and have been since the first inhabitation and engineering of the water, islands and salt marshes (barene) into the lagoon city. The unique environmental and cultural challenges posed to Venice have meant that it has long been a laboratory for cultural conservation as well as techniques for withstanding flooding (acqua alta), and sea level rise. Venice remains a centre of film and television production as well as hosting the Biennale in its art, architecture, theatre, dance and film festival iterations. The reproduced image of the city has long circulated in a global imaginary from the proliferation of Canaletto’s paintings and his followers to the stock images of the city that proliferate today. The visual language of Venice has been appropriated as one that promotes the myth of a watery city on the precipice of disappearance while exacerbating the extractive trends of over tourism that maintain the city whilst contributing to population loss and its physical erosion, no less than through the Cruise ships that dwarf its historic skyline. The Venice seminar of Amphibious Screens hosted a roundtable conversation with distinct voices and experts from environmental activism, industry experts in both production and exhibition, cultural historians of the Venetian environment, and the role of art practices in engaging with the lagoon ecosystem and shifting trends in the biennale. The conversation will bring into critical dialogue the visual culture of the aqua alta, the impacts of using production practices un-suited to the uniqueness of the city’s amphibious environment and its architectures alongside how practices try to mitigate their own interventions into the changing lagoon ecosystem, and finally those invested in considering novel ways of exhibiting film afloat the lagoon. Beginning and returning to the turbid teal of the submerged image of Venice’s waters the seminar asks whether the image of the lagoon itself can provide an antidote to the tourist image and help to instigate more sustainable production practices in tandem with exhibition afloat the lagoon itself? The seminar aimed to work towards an industry more attuned to the lagoon-city’s unique amphibious environment and the cultural heritage of a uniquely Venetian watery sense of place.

Case Study 1 Participants
Hunter Vaughan, Senior Research Associate, University of Cambridge

Mariam Abazeri, PhD candidate and filmmaker, University of Miami; Rachel Silverstein, Executive Director, Miami Waterkeeper; Sarah Curry, Filmmaker, Sereia Films; Rev Houston Cypress, Artist and Environmental Activist, Love The Everglades Movement; Mark Emery, Filmmaker

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Case Study 2 Participants

Pietari Kaapa, Reader in Global Media, Cultural and Media Policy Studies; Sebastian Konefal, Associate professor, University Gdansk; Steven Meyers, Head of Film Department, Iceland University of the Arts; Þórdís Björt Sigþórsdóttir, Team Leader, Department for Nature Protection Areas; Björn Þór Vilhjálmsson, Chair, Film Studies, University of Iceland; Sigga Rósa Bjarnadóttir, Chair, Icelandic Filmmakers Association.

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Case Study 3 Participants

Rachel Moseley, Film & Television Studies, University of Warwick; Gemma Goodman, Research Assistant, University of Warwick; Tony Flux, Coast and Marine Adviser South West, National Trust; Emily Stevenson, Co-Founder, Beach Guardian CIC; Denzil Monk, CEO / Producer, Bosena; Tamzyn Smith, Principal Lead for Culture and Creative Industries, Cornwall Council; Steve Evanson, Freelance TV Skills Trainer, CoastTV; Oliver Raud, Programme Manager CREWW, South West Water

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Case Study 4 Participants

Ifor Duncan, Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Environmental Humanities, Ca' Foscari University of Venice; Francesco Vallerani, Professor, Ca’ Foscari University, Venice; Eleonora Sovrani, Artist, We are here Venice; Emiliano Guaraldo, Researcher, Ca’ Foscari University, Venice; Cinema Galleggiante, Artists Venezia; Kinonauts Film Studio, Founder Kinonauts

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