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Unit of study_

FILM3006: Cinematic Ecologies

Semester 2, 2023 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

This unit explores cinema's engagement with earth's ecologies, from its environmental impacts as a resource-intensive industry, to its capacity to shape human perceptions and relations to the more-than-human world. From the ocean waves and fluttering leaves that captivated early film audiences, to contemporary representations of ecological collapse, this unit tests film's capacity to transform the centrality of 'the human', and to activate non-anthropocentric approaches to ecological renewal. A range of critical approaches to film, including ecocriticism, animal studies and posthumanism, will be used to illuminate diverse moving-image case studies.

Unit details and rules

Unit code FILM3006
Academic unit Film Studies
Credit points 6
12cp at 2000 level in Film Studies
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Matilda Mroz,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment Multimedia and Research Essay
Theoretical essay using scholarly sources and 3-5 Portfolio images
30% Formal exam period
Due date: 20 Nov 2023 at 23:59
1650 words and 3-5 images
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Assignment hurdle task Visual and Written Portfolio Submission 1
4 film stills and 1 photo accompanied by analysis (150 words per image)
20% Week 07
Due date: 15 Sep 2023 at 23:59
5 images and 750 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO5 LO4 LO3
Assignment hurdle task Visual and Written Portfolio Submission 2
8-10 stills, 4-6 photos (14 total) with 150 words analysis each
50% Week 13
Due date: 01 Nov 2023 at 23:59
14 images and 2100 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO5 LO4 LO3
hurdle task = hurdle task ?

Assessment summary

Visual and Written Portfolio: Framing Cinematic Ecologies  

In its final form, the Portfolio will consist of 14 images, each with an accompanying analysis. The Portfolio is structured as a cumulative assessment; there are two submission points, giving students the opportunity to revise some of the work before the final submission at the end of semester. The images in the Portfolio will fall into two categories. 8-10 of the images will be screen-grabs or stills from the films studied on the unit, while 4-6 will be images that the students take independently, of their own environments (14 in total). Each image will be accompanied by a brief analysis of approx. 150 words. 

This assessment is intended to foster continuous and on-going student engagement and peer/tutor feedback throughout the unit. Students will have the opportunity in tutorials to discuss their chosen image and analysis, creating a peer feedback network. They will develop a greater understanding of the role of cinema in framing environments aesthetically, politically, epistemologically and ethically.  

In contributing their own 4-6 images to the Portfolio, students will situate themselves in a broader discourse around climate change, environmental activism, and post-human thinking. Through composing, photographing and framing their own images, students will be able to draw on their local environment, cultural experience, and socio-historical background, encouraging diversity, creativity and self-reflexivity.  

Much writing on cinema (including academic essays, film reviews and festival catalogues) uses screen grabs or film stills. Students will learn how to use such images in a critical, theoretically-engaged way. The Portfolio encourages students to form connections between the films that we are studying on the unit, the theory and critical thinking that we are deploying, and the environments and non-human life around them. Students will develop a close attention to detail and an understanding of the relationship between image and theory/philosophy/activism. 

Visual and Written Portfolio Submission 1 

In Week 7, students will submit the first 4 images from films, accompanied by one image that they have taken themselves, with the necessary analysis. Tutors will give feedback that the students can carry forward into Submission 2.  

Visual and Written Portfolio Submission 2  

At the end of the teaching term (Week 13), students will submit the full Portfolio of 14 images and analyses.  

Multimedia and Research Essay  

The Essay allows students to pursue their own interests within the field of ‘cinematic ecologies’, encouraging further critical awareness of their positioning within environmental and climate-related debates, and allowing them to link their own practice of ‘framing’ images to broader scholarship in this field. 

The Essay asks students to: 

  • Collaborate with their tutors to develop a topic of their choice within the unit 

  • Engage in-depth with the analytical/theoretical/philosophical scholarship on the unit 

  • Use 3-5 images from their Portfolio and integrate them into their theoretical framework for the essay 

  • Draw on the analyses they have conducted in the Portfolio, without reproducing the material verbatim.  

This assessment will be due during the exam period, giving students time to focus exclusively on this assessment after submitting the Portfolio. 


Assessment criteria

Assessment Criteria

This unit uses standards based assessment for award of assessment marks.  The following grade descriptors are also available online at:

This guide indicates broadly the qualitative judgements implied by the various grades which may be awarded. Evaluation is made with due consideration of the different standards likely to be achieved by students in junior and senior intermediate (2nd year) and advanced (3rd year) units.

85%+ (High Distinction)

Work of exceptional standard.

Work demonstrates initiative and originality in research, analysis and argumentation; presents innovative, insightful interpretations of specific works of art, architecture, film and/or other media, which are used throughout to demonstrate points being made; effectively integrates visual analysis and critical engagement with scholarly debates to develop a rich and thorough analysis of its object(s) of study; indicates awareness of complexities and qualifications in argumentation; demonstrates careful thought about the critical, historical and/or theoretical context; provides evidence of wide ranging reading; is properly referenced and well presented; writing is clear, fluent, and persuasive.

A High Distinction is distinguished from a Distinction by the depth and sophistication of visual analysis deployed, and by the evidence of independent, critical thinking. Work which is awarded a mark of over 90% in senior level units of study will often contain some publishable or potentially publishable elements.

75-84% (Distinction)

Work of a superior standard

Work demonstrates an intelligent understanding of, and individual engagement with, material; visual analysis is well developed and harnessed to the argument, with thoughtful, detailed visual exposition of specific works used to demonstrate points; addresses an issue and presents a well argued, coherent case; demonstrates careful thought about the critical, historical and/or theoretical context; demonstrates an independent and critical attitude to readings; written work is properly referenced and well presented, with a clear structure and coherent overall argument; writing is characterized by individuality, clarity, and independent insight.

A Distinction is distinguished from a High Credit chiefly by the quality of its analysis of the works of art under discussion, and by its level of critical understanding and intellectual enquiry.

70-74% (High Credit)

Highly competent work demonstrating clear capacity to complete Honours successfully. This level of work is considered above average.

Work provides evidence of independent reading and thinking about relevant works of art and their contexts; demonstrates capacity to undertake close analysis of works of art and develop with c independent observations; demonstrates a sound grasp of subject matter and a good appreciation of key issues and contexts; shows understanding of relevant critical and theoretical considerations and of the conceptual issues raised; avoids summary; indicates an intelligent attempt at a critical or theoretical argument; is clearly and effectively written; is well referenced.

A High Credit is distinguished from a Low Credit chiefly by the extent of independent analysis of works of art, and by some obvious attempt to interpret the outcome of close analysis.

65-69% (Low Credit)

Very competent work though not necessarily of the standard to complete Honours. 

The work shows some understanding of relevant critical and theoretical considerations and of the conceptual issues raised by a unit of study; demonstrates some independent reading and thinking about key works of art and their contexts; uses close critical analysis; avoids summary; attempts a critical or theoretical argument; is clearly and effectively written; is adequately referenced.

A Low Credit is distinguished from a High Pass by the degree of independent discussion of works of art, the clarity of the writing and the extent to which it attempts a more general critical and/or theoretical argument.

58-64% (High Pass)

Work of a good, satisfactory standard 

Work demonstrates a broad and reasonably accurate command of the subject matter and some sense of its broader significance; demonstrates a genuine attempt at independent reading and thinking about works of art; generally avoids summary, paraphrase or unsubstantiated assertion; arguments may contain some oversimplification or superficiality; may sometimes present quotation for illustrative purposes merely, but does also present the outcome of some critical analysis; is adequately expressed; is adequately referenced.

50-57% (Pass)

Work of an acceptable standard 

Work provides evidence of having read and thought about relevant works of art and issues; attempts a coherent argument though there may be ellipses in argumentation; discussion of works of art tends towards description rather than analysis; insufficient preparation for a visual test may be indicated by missed or incorrect identifications, lack of familiarity with periods, styles, key critical issues; may paraphrase fairly extensively; tends to use quotation for illustrative purposes only; may tend towards generality in answering a question; may present simplistic comment or unsubstantiated assertions; is adequately expressed though there may be some weaknesses in this area; may contain some referencing errors.

Below 50% (Fail)

Work not of an acceptable standard

Work may fail for any of the following reasons: little or no analysis of works of art; in a visual test, an inability to correctly identify works, periods and styles; serious mistakes in identification, indicating lack of understanding of the material taught; minimal research; irrelevance of content; unacceptable levels of paraphrasing; excessive use of quotation for illustrative purposes only, without any attempt at analysis; excessive level of generality in answering a question; sloppy, inconsistent presentation; inappropriate or obscure expression; incoherent general structure; inadequate referencing; late submission of work without extension.

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 PART I. ELEMENTS. Introduction to Cinematic Ecologies Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 02 Introduction to Cinematic Ecologies Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
The Wind in the Trees: From Silent Cinema to CGI Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 03 Cinema and Life (when we are not there to see it) Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
The Elements of Cinema: Earth and Fire Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 04 Geology, Archaeology, Extraction Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
The Elements of Cinema: Water and Air Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 05 At Sea: Colonialism and Posthumous Cinematic Ecologies Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
PART II. CREATURES. Creaturely Cinema Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 06 Bird, Dog, Horse, Human, Rabbit Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Vegan Cinema Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 07 Andrea Arnold's Consumer Societies Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Aquatic Entanglements and the Cinematic Aquarium Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 08 Tentacular Cinema and Evolution Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
PART III. LANDSCAPE. Landscape and Cinema Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 09 The History of Landscape is the History of Genocide Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
The Landscapes of Slow Violence Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 10 The Nature of Terror: Timbuktu Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Beneath Clouds, Beneath Earth: Ivan Sen Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 11 Beneath Clouds, Beneath Earth: Ivan Sen Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
PART IV. CINEMA AFTER THE END OF THE WORLD. Material Witnesses in the Anthropocene Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 12 A refractive and monstrous shimmer: Annihilation Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Hyperobjects (we are already in The Zone) Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 13 Cinema from beginning to end: Snowpiercer Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Cinematic Ecologies and Multimedia Research Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5

Attendance and class requirements


According to Faculty Board Resolutions, students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences are expected to attend 90% of their classes. If you attend less than 50% of classes, regardless of the reasons, you may be referred to the Examiner’s Board. The Examiner’s Board will decide whether you should pass or fail the unit of study if your attendance falls below this threshold. If a unit of study has a participation mark, your attendance may influence this mark. For more information on attendance, see

Class Requirements

All lectures for this unit will be conducted in-person and online, available as recordings. All tutorials will take place in-person. There is no zoom option for tutorials and they will not be recorded. 

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

NB. The information below, including lecture titles, required reading and viewing, is subject to change.



Lecture 1: Introduction to Cinematic Ecologies

Required Reading: Adam O’Brien (2018). Film Studies and the Natural Environment. In Film and the Natural Environment: Elements and Atmospheres. Wallflower Press.

Lecture 2: The Wind in the Trees: Silent Cinema to CGI

Tutorial: Cinema and Life (when we are not there to see it)

Required Reading: Jordan Schonig (2018). Re-thinking “The Wind in the Trees” in Early Cinema and CGI. Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture 40(1).

Lecture 3: The Elements of Cinema: Earth and Fire

Tutorial: Geology, Archaeology, Extraction

Required Reading: Sasha Litvintseva (2022) Grounding. In Geological Filmmaking. Open Humanities Press.

Lecture 4: The Elements of Cinema: Water and Air

Tutorial: At Sea: Colonialism and Posthumous Ecologies

Required Reading: Stacy Alaimo (2014). Oceanic Origins, Plastic Activism, and New Materialism at Sea. In S. Iovino and S. Opperman (Eds.). Material Ecocriticism. Indiana University Press.

Required Viewing: The Pearl Button (Patricio Guzmán, Chile, 2015)



Lecture 5: Creaturely Cinema  

Tutorial: Bird, Dog, Horse, Human, Rabbit.

Required Reading: Anat Pick (2011), Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film. Columbia University Press. [extracts]

Required Viewing: Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, UK, 2009); Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, UK, 2011)

Lecture 6: Vegan Cinema

Tutorial: Andrea Arnold’s Consumer Societies

Required Reading: Anat Pick (2018). Vegan Cinema. In E. Quinn and B. Westwood (Eds.). Thinking Veganism in Literature and Culture: Towards a Vegan Theory. Springer Verlag.

Required Viewing: Cow (Andrea Arnold, UK, 2021); American Honey (Andrea Arnold, UK, 2016)

Lecture 7: Aquatic Entanglements and the Cinematic Aquarium

Tutorial: Tentacular Cinema and Evolution

Required Reading: Donna Haraway (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press [extracts].

Required Viewing: Evolution (Lucile Hadžihalilović, France, 2015)



Lecture 8: Landscape and Cinema

Tutorial: The History of Landscape is the History of Genocide

Required Reading: W. J. T. Mitchell (2002). Imperial Landscape. In W. J. T. Mitchell (Ed.). Landscape and Power. University of Chicago Press.

Joanne Barker (2019). Confluence: Water as an Analytic of Indigenous Feminisms. American Indian Culture and Research Journal 43(3).  

Required Viewing: Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock (Josh Fox, James Spione, and Myron Dewey, USA, 2017)

Lecture 9: The Landscapes of Slow Violence

Tutorial: The Nature of Terror: Timbuktu

Required Reading: Rob Nixon (2011). Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Harvard University Press. [extracts]

Required Viewing: Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, France/Mauritania/Qatar, 2014)

Lecture 10: Beneath Clouds, Beneath Earth: Ivan Sen

Tutorial: Beneath Clouds, Beneath Earth: Ivan Sen

Required Reading: Anne Rutherford (2019). Ivan Sen’s Cinematic Imaginary: Restraint, Complexity and a Politics of Place. In F. Collins, J. Landman & S. Bye (Eds.). A Companion to Australian Cinema. John Wiley & Sons.

Jason de Santolo (2018). Shielding Indigenous Worlds From Extraction and the Transformative Potential of Decolonizing Collaborative Research. Transdisciplinary Theory, Practice and Education.

Required Viewing: Beneath Clouds (Ivan Sen, Australia, 2002); Goldstone (Ivan Sen, Australia, 2016); Mystery Road (Ivan Sen, Australia, 2013)



Lecture 11: Material Witnesses in the Anthropocene

Tutorial: A refractive and monstrous shimmer: Annihilation

Required Reading: Susan Schuppli (2015). Slick Images: The Photogenic Politics of Oil. In M. Mirca and V.W.J van der Gerven Oei (Eds.). Allegory of the Cave Painting. Mousse Milan.

Required Viewing: Annihilation (Alex Garland, USA/UK, 2018)

Lecture 12. Hyperobjects (we are already in The Zone)

Tutorial: Cinema From Beginning to End: Snowpiercer

Required Reading: Timothy Morton (2013). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. University of Minnesota Press. [extracts]

Required Viewing: Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea/Czech Republic, 2013)

Lecture 13: Cinematic Ecologies and Multimedia Research





Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. Demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of cinema’s historical and contemporary engagements with ecologies, environments and animals
  • LO2. Engage with current theoretical approaches concerning the intersections between cinema, environment, and non-human life
  • LO3. Demonstrate complex, subtle analyses of practices of framing across documentary, fiction, and experimental cinema
  • LO4. Produce peer-reviewed and independent, creative and analytical, content in visual and written formats
  • LO5. Demonstrate a self-reflexive understanding of your own role and capacity as a cultural agent to intervene in scholarly, practitioner and activist work on climate change and other ecological issues.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

This is the first time this unit has been offered.

Additional costs

Students may be required to rent or purchase films for this unit. Much of the content taught in this unit is online, and can only be rented or purchased by individuals. We have tried to keep costs to an absolute minimum and will warn students in advance where purchases might be necessary.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.