The 21st-century Disaster Film: Now It Gets Real

(Panel)


Cultural Studies and Media Studies / Interdisciplinary Humanities

Rebecca Romanow (University of Rhode Island)

In the 21st century, the disaster film has undergone a radical transformation; the changing nature and scope of what we understand as disaster has caused the formulaic and often campy genre conventions to dislodge, disrupt, and, frequently, disappear. The concept of disaster, once the province of giant sharks, “towering infernos,” and massive earthquakes, is now seen on film to address natural, climactic, human, economic, and war- and political-related disasters. These disasters –-and our anxieties and attitudes towards them--are then reflected in film, television, and streaming content.

This panel will focus on representations concerning issues of the apocalypse, migration/immigration, extreme weather, terrorism, dystopia, hunger, poverty, and genocide. We will ask questions concerning how we define and understand the term "disaster" in the 21st century, and how we are telling and historicizing the difficult stories of these human, natural, and global events through film and televised media. As Gilbey points out “one of the timeless functions of cinematic storytelling is the way it allows us to explore in safety the fears that impinge occasionally on our daily lives. But that dynamic alters when reality itself is saturated into dread and anxiety.” That is certainly what we see in filmic content like Von Trier’s Melancholia, Cuarón’s Children of Men, or Miller’s new rendering of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Gilbey asks the important question:"Perhaps it’s time for disaster film-makers to address why our world is so messed up, rather than imagining how much worse it could be." This panel will examine the seismic shifts in the conventions of the disaster film and explore the ways in which current filmmakers on all platforms attempt to perform Rose’s contention that, when we now experience the genre, "We all come out of it feeling more human. Perhaps that’s the best cinema can hope to achieve."

Works Cited:

Gilbey, Ryan. "In our troubled world, disaster movies are becoming obsolete.” The Guardian. 27 Sep 2017.

Rose, Steve. “‘They’re usually either enemies or victims’: The refugee crisis on screen.” The Guardian. 1 Dec 2017.

In the 21st century, the disaster film has undergone a radical transformation; the changing nature and scope of what we understand as disaster has caused the formulaic genre conventions to dislodge, disrupt, and disappear. “Disaster” now addresses natural, climactic, human, economic, and war- and political-related disasters. This panel focuses on representations of the apocalypse, migration/immigration, extreme weather, terrorism, dystopia, hunger, poverty, and genocide. We will explore how we define and understand the term "disaster" in the 21st century, and how we are telling and historicizing the difficult stories of these human, natural, and global events through film and televised media.