Daniel Oscar Hunter

Emotion in natural history film

Thesis Abstract

Natural history films serve as an excellent audio-visual medium reconnecting humans with the natural world. Indeed, of the varied reasons why people watch natural history films, all share one commonality: natural history films are powerful emotional vectors. Whether the film is about bison on the prairie, a man drifting down the Amazon or a montage of animal footage set to music, natural history films have the power to prime, create and release emotions in audiences. A film best facilitates this connection between the audio-visual experience and the viewer if the filmmaker incorporates several key aspects including narrative (or story), elements of Romanticism and effective natural history filmmaking techniques. Through this approach the filmmaker offers the viewer a complete and fully real emotional experience.

This thesis demonstrates the ways in which emotions manifest themselves and, indeed, what techniques filmmakers have at their disposal to elicit emotion. Story, emotion and the natural history genre are examined as means for creating effective engagement.

Although story is not the sole prerequisite for an effective natural history film, it is demonstrated in this thesis that narrative is a powerful tool for both conceptual communication and engaging viewer’s interest because it is not restricted by an individual’s culture. Incorporating technical and theoretical aspects of Romanticism into natural history film is also examined. It is shown in this thesis that elements of Romanticism act as a means of establishing emotional connection between filmmaker and viewer, and incorporate the public’s increasing desire to reconnect with nature. The films of Werner Herzog are assessed as examples of integrating elements of Romanticism, storytelling, and natural history filmmaking techniques to generate a subliminal and powerful connection between viewer and film.

As a two-part thesis, the film River Dog (made as a component of this thesis) is discussed with respect to the aforementioned techniques and the goal of establishing emotional connection between the viewer and film.