Rethinking Documentary and the Environment: A Multi-Scalar Approach to Time

Therese Verdun Davis, Belinda Maria Smaill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This essay investigates the analytical potential of time in relation to the nonfiction moving image. Time is important because it drives understandings of environmental change (perceptions of past, present and future), and it is tied to the fundamental expectation of documentary – that it will speak to the reality of historical events (recent or distant). In seeking an approach to the moving image that might better harness the ecological work of documentary across different contexts, we propose a theory of the multi-scalar that is explicitly concerned with time and duration and has the capacity to function as a critical tool that might reveal the uneven realisation of scale across cultures and film modes. We explore how established knowledge in political ecology might dovetail with the expression of time in documentary (including the representation of history). We pose two examples. The first explores the natural history documentary, in particular, the time lapse representation of plant life and how it might offer alternative nonhuman temporalities. The second study explores an episode of an Australian television series, First Footprints (2013), which presents a history of Indigenous occupation of the continent, ranging across a 50,000 year time span, offering a way to consider colonial conceptualisations of time
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-37
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2018


  • Documentary
  • environment
  • scale

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