Animated Waters and the Circulation of Indigenous Instruction

In: Studies in World Cinema
Joanna Hearne Film and Media Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, USA

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While water as setting and as mirror have driven animation technologies in mainstream American animated features (requiring, in Disney’s 1937 Snow White, the enormous resources of the multiplane camera), contemporary Indigenous productions activate another relationship of viewer to screen and viewer to water, converging to form a new Indigenous screen imaginary that connects instruction with care. This article traces the integration of North American Indigenous animation aesthetics with interrelated relationships and obligations around water and water protection. Drawing on examples from an expanding corpus of short animated productions, I argue that Indigenous ways of envisioning water present viewers with instruction towards action: water conveys a teaching. Following Lenape critic Joanne Barker’s turn to water as an analytic – “a water that (in)forms, a water that instructs” – I explore Indigenous animation of water as both pedagogy and technology, a conjunction that foregrounds human creative authorship even as it decenters the human in favor of water as a teacher.

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