Pedagogical films convince us we have control over the environment

Graduate Student Spotlight: Joni Hayward

PhD student in Media, Cinema and Digital Studies

My field is cinema and media studies, and my work is dedicated to the rigorous exploration of our understanding of the environment, natural resources, energy, and the politics enmeshed in their mediations. My scholarship focuses in part on pedagogical, or “useful,” cinema: this distinct, albeit loose category includes documentary film, a variety of entertainment media, television programs with science-based or environmentally-geared messages, as well as advertisement, propaganda, and even industry films. For example, I have worked on 1) a historiography of environmental documentary film since 2001, 2) a study of the intersection of environmental film and activism, and 3) an exploration of the limits of experiences of nature in creating environmental awareness. I not only study the representation of environmental issues, but also the media infrastructures, data, and material outcomes of environmental media.

Most recently, I have researched two disparate, but not unrelated areas: the historical and social function of gas industry films in interwar Britain, and the present-day use of drones to aid in conservation efforts. Between World War I and World War II, the British gas industry aimed to communicate the efficiency and safety of gas as a fuel source in the home. I view these early industry films as pedagogical in nature and as reflective of a burgeoning environmental sensibility surrounding the need for efficiency and economical energy. Though vastly different in their purpose, drones are part of the desire for control and efficiency as well, being used to monitor, surveil and sense environments. While pedagogical media can be seen as a harnessing tool to convince us that we have control over the environment, my work interrogates where agency settles and how it shifts.