• Animating Life and Death and the Hunter’s Gaze: An Introduction to Film Animal Studies through Polish Nature Films - By Michał Matuszewski

  • Start: Wednesday, 24 April 15:30
    End: Wednesday, 24 April 17:00
  • Room 52.939 - 9th floor building 52. Roc Boronat - Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Carrer de Roc Boronat, 138, Barcelona, Espanya
  • At the intersection of critical animal studies with film theory and history lies an interdisciplinary area where scholars examine not only the representation of non-humans but also the 'animalistic' modalities inherent in the medium itself. Central to their inquiry is the possibility of transcending the human perspective by utilizing cinema as well as audiovisual media to deepen our understanding of the human relationship with the world around us.

    In my presentation, I aim to offer a concise introduction to 'Film Animal Studies'. The field revolves around two main strands. The first strand is the figure of the zoo, which serves as a model for the shaping of the 'zoological gaze' and influencing how animals are framed in culture. This underscores the shared cultural history of zoos and film, revealing a common 'configuration of gaze'. The second strand is the shift of the focus to the portrayal of animal death in cinema, examining both its literal representation in the use of animal bodies in art and film, and its theoretical implications related to the mechanical reproduction of still (dead) images. André Bazin's insights on death in cinema, re-examined through a feminist materialist lens, provide valuable perspectives here.

    Within this context, I situate my research on Polish nature films from 1940 to 1960. This period witnessed the production of numerous scientific, educational, and nature films in Poland, particularly biological films which oscillated between scientific rigor and artistic experimentation. Filmmakers grappled with questions concerning the relationship between the film medium and the principles of natural science, resulting in a constant interplay between movement, attempts to represent the mysteries of life, and the mechanical animation of preparations created from animal bodies. Concurrently, nature documentaries, including the works of pioneering nature documentarian Włodzimierz Puchalski, introduced concepts such as 'bloodless hunting', revealing a nuanced perspective on filming nature that combines a rejection of violence with the colonizing logic of hunting.

    My research combines philosophical reflections on the film medium with discourse analysis to explore how Polish nature films have shaped perceptions of animals and plants, and how certain discourses or perceptions have influenced people's ambivalent attitudes towards nature. Ultimately, this investigation aims to address the broader question of whether and how the medium of film serves as a valuable tool for understanding the relationship between humans and non-humans.

    Bio: Michał Matuszewski is a PhD researcher at the Doctoral School in Humanities, University of Warsaw, Poland, in the field of cultural studies and critical “film animal studies”.He is working on a dissertation entitled "Bloodless hunting? Polish Nature Film 1945-2005" on a cultural history of polish wildlife films and discourses on nature and animals. Michał is also a film curator, festival programmer, researcher, author, and film essayist. Head of a Film Essay Studio at the vnLab of the im Łodź Film School. He is a scholarship holder of the Culture and Animals and Animals Foundation and works on the film project based on visual research on the animal gaze in cinema. His recent film essay project "Re-membering Topsy" was presented at the National Museum of Warsaw. He is a co-leader of the Film Animal Studies Workgroup at NECS - European Network for Cinema and Media Studies.