Ecofilms and Ecocritical Perspectives

Professor: Iris Ralph
Institution: Tamkang University, Danshui (Tamsui) Campus, Taipei County, Taiwan
Course Number: 6450

SYLLABUS for SEMESTER 2 (Spring 2010)


Ecofilms, Ecocritical perspectives

(Undergraduate elective course)

Class meeting times:

Monday 6:10-8:00 pm

Class location:

Room 605, Ching-shen Memorial Building (T)


Dr I Ralph

Required text:

Paton, Alan. Cry, The Beloved Country


Oral presentation (25%)

Class participation (25%)

Mid-semester exam (25%)

Final semester exam (25%)



i) Animal rights

In this semester, we will continue to learn about animal rights, part of the concern of environmental rights. We will make one or two small excursions to local vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Danshui to find out what kinds of foods are served there and why many people in Taiwan are or choose to be vegetarians and vegans. We will view a popular YouTube video file, KentuckyFriedCruelty, about the enormous suffering caused to animals by the fast food industry in the United States and about habits of food consumption in globalised economies, including Taiwan’s post-industrial economy. Time permitting, we will view the film Fast Food Nation, which implicitly criticises the fast food industry for its exploitation of its workers, use of hundreds of chemical ingredients to make fast food taste and smell good, and questionable practices of meat production. We will view and discuss The Cove, a film about the dolphin trade, in the context of learning more about animal rights and ecotourism, another important area of environmental rights.


ii) Environmental action/engagement

As we learned last semester, although distinctions between ecogenic environments and anthropogenic environments do not always hold up, we can think of ecogenic environments generally as places that are not made by humans, and anthropogenic environments generally as places that are indelibly shaped, constructed or radically altered by humans. As part of our goal to understand the ecogenic environments that support or profoundly shape our identities as humans, including our political and cultural identities, we will visit Danshui’s Guanyin Mountain, a local ecogenic place. We will interview long time (human) residents about what they know of the mountain and its environmental history and why it is so-named, and we will spend an afternoon on the mountain collecting trash (mostly discarded plastic bags and containers) towards the goal of learning more about practical ways of becoming involved in local community projects in order to raise awareness of the issue of protecting and looking after ecogenic environments.


iii) Environmental justice

Also as we learned last semester, environmental justice arguments (also called eco-marxist arguments) are part of the concern of environmental rightsWe will continue the work that we embarked on in the first semester (Fall 2009). Our objective is to learn more about humans’ interactions with, dependence on, and sometimes even vociferous defense of, these environments. We will view and discuss two films: Trashed, a documentary about garbage and the lucrative landfill industry in the U.S.A., and Up the Yangtze, a documentary about the building of the largest hydroelectric project in history—the Three Gorges River Dam—and the displacement or loss of human and nonhuman communities that is one of its outcomes.

Near the end of the semester, we will view the filmDisgrace, an adaptation of the novel by J. M. Coetzee (which we read last semester). In keeping with our learning about animal rights and environmental justice (and postcolonial) arguments by way of Coetzee’s South Africa, we will read Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country (1948), a classic writing of environmental justice. Last, we will view and discuss a film adaptation (relatively recent) of Paton’s novel.



Week 1 / February 22



Week 2 / March 1

KentuckyFriedCruelty; followed by oral presentations


Week 3 / March  8

Film The Cove


Week 4 / March 15

cont. The Cove, followed by oral presentations


Week 5 / March 22

Film Up the Yangtze


Week 6 / March 29

cont. Up the Yangtze, followedby oral presentations


Week 8 / April  5 – Holiday –

Ancestor Memorial Day/Tomb Sweeping Day

Make-up class/excursion to Guanyin Mountain,

Week 9 / April 12

Review for mid-semester exam


Week 10 / April 19

No class (makeup class on 5 April)


Week 11 / April 26      MID-SEMESTER EXAM


Week 12 / May 3

Film Trashed

Week 13 / May 10

cont. Trashed, followed by oral presentations


Week 14 / May 17

Film Disgrace


Week 15 / May 24

cont. Disgrace, followed by oral presentations


Week 16 / June 7

Film Cry, The Beloved Country


Week 17 / June 14

cont. Cry, The Beloved Country, followed by

oral presentations

Week 18 / June 21      FINAL SEMESTER EXAM



Mid-semester exam (25%) and final-semester exam (25%)

The mid- and final- semester exams will consist each of 30 multiple choice questions and a short essay. The multiple choice questions will be based on the films that we view in class and will be worth a ½ point each. The short essays for the mid- and final-semester exams will be worth 10%.

The two short essays will be due at the time of the mid- and final-semester exam but should be prepared in advance of the date of these exams. The mid-semester essay will be an oral history project based on our visit to Guanyin Mountain and our interviews of local residents who live close to Guanyin and can tell us something of its history, the plants and animals (native and introduced) that flourish there, and the changes they have seen the mountain undergo in their own lifetime. The topic for the final-semester essay will be an environmental justice question based on the novel Cry, The Beloved Country.

Oral presentation (individual assignment)

Students will be asked to tell the class two or three main points or environmental arguments that one of the films makes. Except for the oral presentations due in the second week of the semester (based on the filmKentuckyFriedCruelty), the oral presentations will be based on a film viewed the week before. These presentations will be brief but they should be concise, informative, and evidently relate to the topic.