Elemental Documentary: Fire, Forensics and Pyro-Epistemologies

In: Studies in World Cinema
Patrick Brian SmithBritish Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, Film and Television Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK

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This article examines the interconnections between fire and Indigenous politics, geographies and epistemologies. More precisely, the article focuses on how different modes of emergent nonfiction media practice are engaging with the pyrological and interrogating its entanglements with Indigenous forms of existence and ecological-political struggle in a moment of escalating climate catastrophe and capitalist settler-colonial exploitation and extraction. The article explores how the pyrological and the ecological are framed and taken up in markedly contrasting discursive, visual and formal ways across these modes of nonfiction media practice. At a broader conceptual level, I examine these divergent engagements with pyro-ecologies to map out how countervailing currents in contemporary documentary practice differently approach conceptualisations of both the evidentiary and the epistemological in relation to Indigenous politics and ontologies. I argue that these engagements manifest differently across these works depending upon the degree to which they remain attentive to – and engaged with – Indigenous modes of ecologically-conscious land-based knowledge, pedagogy and evidence.

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