Taking the widely viewed media work of French filmmaker and environmentalist Yann Arthus- Bertrand’s as its subject, this essay posits that despite the filmmaker’s stated ecological and humanist position, the formalist strategies he employs-particularly the fly-over and the database-bring with them a set of historical conventions that paradoxically import capitalist and imperialist ideologies and phenomenologies. In particular, the article considers the films Home (2009) and Human (2015) and the database project 7 Billion Others (2003-ongoing) as documentaries that deploy techniques of technologically-virtuosic seeing that end up obscuring the very possibility of cognitive mapping that would allow viewers to situate their contents in legible political economic frameworks. Closely related to the concept of the Anthropocene, which holds all people equally accountable for the current environmental crisis, Arthus- Bertrand’s work tends to obscure the causes and therefore meaningful solutions for the current situation. The article concludes by postulating that the model of cognitive mapping itself requires more attention to the ways in which particular aesthetic forms mobilize affective dimensions of viewer experience.
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