Film Studies Seminar - Dr Becca Voelcker: Poets of the land

15 June 2023, 7:00 pm–9:00 pm

Poets of the Land Event

Drawing on Trinh T. Minh-ha’s concept of the ‘native/ woman/ other’ filmmaker as an ‘inappropriate other’, this seminar will examine the work of two filmmakers who identify with the land and people they film while feeling culturally distanced and meeting cultural resistance.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Dr Clive Nwonka


Haldane Room
Wilkins Building
Gower Street

The central film under discussion is Margaret Tait’s 1981 Land Makar, a portrait of a woman farmer whom Tait admired, the rugged Orkney landscape she cultivated, and the many species with whom she shared space. 

As becomes apparent in the film’s opening sequence, the farmer questions Tait’s romanticization of her as a ‘poet of the land’ (land makar in Scots), understanding her Orcadian identity through working the land as being very different to Tait’s, filming it. Exploring ethical questions concerning the representation of a remote agrarian livelihood threatened by modernization and filmed from an insider/ outsider perspective,this seminar will introduce a second film as a critical interlocutor: Arlene Bowman’s Navajo Talking Picture (1985). This film also portrays a reluctant documentary subject, in this case, the filmmaker’s own grandmother. Visiting the Navajo Reservation where her grandmother lives, Bowman pursues her subject with a ferocity that has confounded scholars and critics by seeming to replicate an objectifying gaze weaponized against Native Americans since settler colonialism and throughout histories of documentary and classical Hollywood cinema. 

Drawing on Fatimah Tobing Rony and Pooja Rangan’s work on the visual and sonic biopolitics of filming marginalized subjects, Dr Becca Voelcker will explore the possibility that neither Tait nor Bowman’s films are as naïve as they might seem. Both films question authenticity and perspective, asking what it means to be an insider/ outsider to a place, a generation, and its (agri)culture.

Amidst our current moment of climate breakdown, the films construct an important argument, suggesting that nature and tradition are imagined, impossible realms within industrial and settler colonial contexts whereby extractivism leaves no land or people undisturbed. 

Image Credits: Margaret Tait, Land Makar, 1981. Courtesy of the Margaret Tait estate and LUX.

About the Speaker

Dr Becca Voelcker

Becca Voelcker is a film historian and cultural critic who writes on film, art and visual culture, particularly in relation to politics and ecology. Becca is a Lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and a Researcher at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. She earned her PhD at Harvard University in 2021, writing a global history of eco-political film. She has lived and worked in Britain, the US and Japan.

Becca contributes to BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking, Film Comment Podcast and the collective mould.earth. Her writing has appeared in Screen, MIRAJ, Sight & Sound, Frieze, Film Comment, and Art Asia Pacific.