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Ecology and Contemporary Nordic Cinemas – forthcoming 2013

2012 June 29

Ecology and contemporary Nordic cinemas: from nation-building to ecocosmopolitanism

Pietari Kääpä (University of Helsinki)

Part of the Continuum series Themes and Issues in National Cinema (editor Armida de La Garza, Xian Jiantong – Liverpool University)



Outline of the book

Ecology and contemporary Nordic cinemas challenges the traditional socio-political rhetoric of national cinema by providing an ecocritical examination of Nordic cinema. The book uses a range of analytical approaches to interrogate how the national paradigm can be rethought through ecosystemic concerns. We explore a range of Nordic films as national and transnational, regional and local texts, all with significant global implications. By synergizing transnational theories with ecological approaches, the study considers the planetary implications of nation-based cultural production.


According to Sheldon Lu and Jiayan Mi, ecocinema involves ‘the study of the production and reproduction of life, the relationship between the human body and the ecosystem, and the controlling and administering of the human body in modern capitalist and socialist regimes’ (2, 2010). These are all vital aspects of Nordic cinemas as nature and environmentalism feature centrally in Nordic self-conceptualisations. Thus, it is surprising that little attention has been devoted to academic exploration of these topics in the Nordic contexts. While work has been done on the individual national cinemas, an analysis of the whole Nordic region and its multiple ecological intersections is yet to be attempted.


  1. 1.       Nation-building in the Nordic context: natural history?

This chapter provides an overview of the dominant eoccinematic patterns and concerns from all five Nordic countries, with due attention paid to cross border and regional projects. I start from an exploration of Nordic existentialism (seen in the films of Bergman and Kaurismäki for example) and situate these within ecophilosophical structures. For the majority of this chapter, however, I will focus on how transnational historical coproduction films use environmental notions to justify their nation-building project(s). Traditionally, such a relationship has been conceptualised from a human-centric basis where the natural environment functions as an integral element in the construction of the national imaginary – nature is conceptualised as a mirror for the ‘national mentality’. What happens when such discourses are recontextualised on a regional level in films like the Arn series (2007-2008)? Do we see the appropriation of nature as a materialist element (the property of the nation) or does the relationship become something more complex, even challenging the foundations of the nation building process?


  1. 2.       Ecocosmopolitanism in the global Nord

Ecocosmopolitanism concerns rethinking the notions of the local and the global in social or cultural environmentalist rhetoric beyond the environment as a source of local ‘authenticity’ or a concern for the global ‘ecosphere’. This chapter interrogates these ideas in the context of popular transnational cinema. I focus on films like the Norwegian Trolljägaren (2010) and Finnish Rare Exports (2010). Both films use national myths in the framework of commercialist genre production and rethink the value of the local/ national in the context of global cultural production. Nature grounds these explorations as it localizes them to indigenous cultural concerns. Simultaneously, the films consciously widen their scope beyond their socio-political confines, providing intriguing case studies of ecological cultural globalization.

  1. 3.       Human ecology and the Nordic welfare state

While Nordic countries are often depicted in very positive terms as the ‘People’s Home’, several contemporary and historical films contradict these optimistic evaluations. Human ecology is concerned with the ways the state structures its society which manifests explicitly in how the human body is subjected to the demands of modernization (and its associated capitalist ideologies). By synergizing socio-political ideological explorations with considerations arising from human ecology, we start to reassess the implications of the Nordic welfare state project. To these ends, the study contextualizes the foundational rural/city bifurcation myth in the context of the welfare state and its ecopolitics. This allows us to take an ecological view on films such as R (2010) and The Man Without A Past (2002). While these films are often discussed in relation to their class politics, we explore them as examples of an emerging ecological consciousness that challenges hegemonic societal structures.


  1. 4.       Ecocultural differences and the multicultural Nord.

Despite the oft repeated planetary implications of ecological thinking, different cultures have diverse modes and perspectives on environmentalism. Thus, we turn to exploring how the rhetoric of multiculturalism accounts for/ restricts ecological diversity. How do the multiculturalist rhetoric Nordic cinemas tie in with the ecocultural diversity on both the national and regional levels? To explore these concerns, we draw on a range of sources from both art and popular cinema. While we initially explore popular comedies and thrillers dealing with multiculturalism, the exploration will expand to fictional explorations of ethnic minorities of the pan-Nordic Lapland. This exploration continues to interrogate the arguments from the previous chapter on the Nordic welfare state. The postnational lifestyles of these ethnic minorities also provides substantial challenges to our perception of Nordic cinema as it urges rethinking the notion of the environment as the integral basis of nationalist ideologies.


  1. 5.       Ecodocumentaries

This chapter is devoted to a range of Nordic documentaries which use environmentalist rhetoric and ecological argumentation. Some of the films use these ideas to interrogate welfare state egalitarianism and consumerist capitalism such as John Webster’s Finnish Recipes for Disaster (2008). In contrast to this observational film, others use documentary ideas in more complex ways such as Jorgen Leth / Lars Von Trier’s The Five Obstructions (2004). These concerns are inspected alongside ethnographic documentaries by Anastasia Lapsui and Markku Lehmuskallio. Their explorations of the diverse ethnic populations of the Nordic Lapland provide a counterpoint to the more exclusivist rhetoric of the ‘mainstream’ films. We build on ideas from previous chapters (multiculturalism, human ecologies) not only to demonstrate the richness of the field but also to challenge any homogeneity of the ‘Nordic project’.

  1. 6.       Global Nordicness and ecopolitical interventionism

Starting out from problematic explorations of the ‘green Nord’ as a self-satisfied hypocritical cultural space in films like Together (2004), the chapter contextualizes  human ecology and Nordic interventionism on a global scale. This enables us to explore the ways in which globalization as a form of neo-liberalism operates through cinema to normalize certain ideological and political structures. Case studies are comprised of films by such well known directors as Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, Susanne Bier, Lukas Moodysson, Aki Kaurismäki and Lars Von Trier. Case studies compare Nordic self-conceptions of morality and ideology in and against other parts of the world. The results will not only provide critical perspectives on how Nordic cultural producers view their roles in the world but also tell us of their sense of ‘obligation’ to the wider ecosystem.

  1. 7.       Media convergence

Media communications are increasingly concerned with ecological debates as they aim to utilize aspects from different media types to achieve sustainable modes of production, distribution, exhibition and consumption. This chapter synergizes ecocriticism/transnationalism with new media considerations to expand our scope on ecocinema and Nordic film cultures. For example, how are new technological developments (i.e. distribution channels, production technology) enabling producers to reduce their material consumption rates? Conversely, are such ‘environmentalist’ concessions used as a form of greenwashing to merely give the illusion of safer and sustainable production? Case studies come from animation films like Niko – The Way to The Stars (2008), which exemplify the populist potential of ecocinema while they also use ecological messages to offset more problematic ideological suggestions (ie. traditionalist ideologies such as patriarchy). Other films such as Iron Sky (2012) use crown sourcing to produce science-fiction films with intriguing ecologically suggestive potential. We explore these concerns to critique the ways the Nordic information age society models are often valourized on a global scale.

One Response leave one →
  1. smonani permalink
    June 29, 2012

    Pietari, a special thanks to you for the last two posts, which clearly indicate the global contexts of ecocinema and ecomedia. While the US and UK has predominated the blog (we seem to be following in the footsteps of literary ecocriticism), these works point to the expanded networks of work in the field. I encourage others working in other national and global contexts to also feel free to send us news and join the conversations.

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