Innovative film course in the Faculty of Environmental Studies tailored to non-English-speaking students

Sign that reads There is no Planet B

This fall, the Faculty of Environmental Studies in collaboration with the York University English Language Institute (YUELI) developed a new experiential education course tailored to non-English-speaking students enrolled in the YUBridge program. The course, Introduction to Documentaries and Environmental Activism, is the first of its kind to be offered by the YUBridge program, introducing students to the ways that environmentalists are using documentary films in the sub-genre known as eco-cinema.

A new experiential course tailored to non-English students in the YUBridge program introduces students to the ways that environmentalists are using documentary films in the sub-genre known as eco-cinema

While the course is open to all students, it was designed with YUBridge students in mind, in that it considers the unique needs of students who are learning English and have been conditionally accepted into programs at York University. YUBridge combines 25 hours per week of instruction of academic English classes, language support, tutorials and lectures with credit courses in liberal arts, science, health, engineering, fine arts and now environmental studies.

“We are so excited that this course will be opening up new pathways for YUBridge students to learn about environmental issues and concerns through material that is fun, engaging and vital for the protection of our planet,” said FES Associate Dean Teaching and Learning and Professor Sarah Flicker. “This course was designed as an experiential education opportunity in which students will not just learn about, but have a chance to create, interactive audiovisual material to help raise awareness around our global climate crisis and illuminate solutions.”

Mark Terry

The course, taught by award-winning documentary filmmaker and York University alumnus Mark Terry (PhD ’19), examines how eco-cinema employs unique storytelling methods that are aimed at connecting audiences through the images on the screen to the world outside the cinema. Students explore topics such as how and why documentary films are made and the role film plays in social change efforts on environmental issues. The course also includes a hands-on learning project in which students apply the skills they have learned to create their own Geo-Doc documentary film project.

Terry has been making documentary films for more than 25 years and has worked throughout the global Arctic, serving as the scientist-in-residence during Adventure Canada’s circumnavigation of Iceland (2018), making the first documented film of a Northwest Passage crossing on the Polar Explorer (2011), and teaching at Arctic universities in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia.

“The documentary film has always demonstrated its ability to act as an agent of social change,” said Terry. “As such, films about the environment, generally referred to these days as eco-cinema, are developing new production methodologies and techniques to enhance their engagement with audiences and yielding a more motivated group of people to act.

“Environmental issues such as climate change are global in nature, and film can reach many people worldwide through its ability to present visible evidence of environmental impacts via images that speak all languages. These issues are also critical in their need to be addressed immediately, and eco-cinema is a valuable communication tool in reaching and influencing the public at large and those tasked with creating new environmental policy for the planet.”

Submitted by Jessica Lamoglie De Nardo