Playing with fossil fuels: activist melancholy in the docu-games Fort McMoney and Offshore

When and Where

Thursday, January 23, 2020 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Deluxe Screening Room; Room 222
2 Sussex Avenue, Toronto, ON M5S 1J5


Dr. Jessica Mulvogue


The burning of fossil fuels has well-known, devastating consequences on both local and planetary scales, and yet, around the world, there is a continued reliance on fossil fuels as a key energy source. This impasse has social, political, economic, as well as cultural roots. From the vantage point of visual culture, a problem of representation emerges: how do we effectively and affectively represent the unspectacular, mundane facets of the systems and processes of the extraction and burning of fossil fuels? For many of the dangerous effects of the fossil fuel industries—such as the hazards of toxic refuse released in the atmosphere, land, and waterways— unfold incrementally over vast periods of time, making them both hard to perceive in everyday life and difficult to capture through typical audiovisual means. Their almost invisible effects are indicative of what Rob Nixon calls slow violence. 

This talk considers how two Canadian documentary-games about extreme oil extraction, David Dufresne’s Fort McMoney (2013) and Brenda Longfellow’s Offshore (2013), use interactivity to elucidate this slow form of violence. I argue that the interactivity in these works generates an unexpected encounter between viewer, subject, and screen, creating an affective space characterized by melancholy and stasis. This is a tactic, I suggest, of refusing to come to terms with the ongoing violence of the fossil fuel industries. It is a form of ‘activist melancholy’ and an example of how interactivity can be productively used in documentary film.

Dr. Mulvogue is a postdoctoral researcher at the Collaborative Research Centre 1015 Otium, University of Freiburg, Germany. Based on the history of Ontario Place, she is investigating the role of immersive media in late 20th century leisure practices. Dr Mulvogue obtained her PhD in Cinema and Media Studies at York University in 2018, and was previously a Mitacs postdoctoral fellow on a project that both examined the history of IMAX cinema and produced new IMAX shorts by leading Canadian filmmakers. Her research focuses on climate change and media arts, interactive documentary, immersive media environments, and petroculture studies. She is currently co-editing the anthology The Interactive Documentary in Canada and has recent publications in The Oxford Handbook of Canadian Cinema and Transformations Journal. Additionally, she has a forthcoming publication on Canadian experimental film and the chemical valley of Sarnia in The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Art, Visual Culture, and Climate Change.


2 Sussex Avenue, Toronto, ON M5S 1J5