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Film and the environment

The course invites you to explore film’s fascinating relationship with the environment by introducing you to cinema from nineteenth-century Britain to Senegal in the present day. By looking at blockbusters (such as Star Wars and Jurassic Park), cult films (Tank Girl), arthouse movies (Roma) and documentaries (The Ants and the Grasshopper), you’ll consider two main questions. First, how has the film industry relied on the natural world to make movies? And second, how has cinema told stories about the environment onscreen? In answering the questions, you’ll encounter a variety of perspectives in ethical debates about cinema’s past, present – and potentially eco-friendlier future.

Standalone study only

This module is available for standalone study only. Any credits from this module cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.


Module code




Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

From the extraction of natural resources in order to manufacture film formats, to the production of movies that tell stories about climate change, the course enables you to explore a wide range of multimedia texts from around the world that offer different perspectives on film and the environment. Throughout the course, you’ll gain knowledge about the benefits and challenges of cinema’s ongoing relationship with the natural world and participate in discussions about the ethics of its past and future.

Week 1: Film and its Environments
You’ll be introduced to the building blocks of the course through two approaches: firstly, the material history of film’s relationship with the environment (such as manufacturing processes and industry practices); and secondly film’s ability to communicate stories about different environments (for example, how films represent different eco-systems). You’ll learn key words and concepts to support your learning and begin to analyse short film clips.

Week 2: Making and Showing Movies
Building on Week 1, you’ll look in-depth at material histories of film manufacture, production, and exhibition. In doing so, you’ll consider issues of power and ethics that emerge from the film industry’s reliance on the environment. Three case studies will explore: the raw materials used to make film formats; repurposed film sets built for the Star Wars franchise in Tunisia; and waste production in movie theatres.

Week 3: Fuelled by Fossils
You’ll further develop your knowledge and understanding of ethical debates about cinema’s reliance on the environment – and its contribution to climate change – by looking at relationships between the film, coal, and oil industries. You’ll explore how films have represented coal and oil, how fossil fuel producers have funded filmmaking, and what the benefits and challenges of navigating cross-industry relationships are for filmmakers.

Week 4: Onscreen Worlds
Focusing on film aesthetics, you’ll develop your analysis of onscreen storytelling about different environments. Drawing on examples from around the world (including films from Kenya, Iran, and New Zealand, among others) you’ll consider how cinema represents people and places and how the storyteller’s perspective can inform audiences’ perceptions of different environments.

Week 5: Environmental Catastrophe
Week 5 builds on the film analysis you undertook in Week 4 to focus on movies about environmental disaster. Through two main categories of film – apocalyptic and Anthropocene (an era of human activity impacting on the environment) – you’ll learn how cinema communicates people’s anxieties about natural and unnatural worlds, and how the film industry benefits from the spectacle of environmental catastrophe.

Week 6: Film Futures
Finally, you'll consider the ethical debates, practical challenges, and potential benefits of sustainability initiatives such as ‘net-zero’ carbon emission goals. You’ll be introduced to research that aims to persuade the film industry to improve the onscreen representation of environmental issues and learn how an emerging film sustainability sector is making cinema more eco-friendly.

You will learn

By the end of this course, you should gain the following learning outcomes.

Knowledge and understanding of:
  • relevant histories and theories of film
  • how the film industry has affected the natural world and been changed by environmental factors
  • ethical debates about how films represent environmental issues.
The ability to:
  • use relevant concepts and vocabulary to communicate your ideas
  • engage with and analyse a range of multimedia sources
  • reflect on your own and others’ perspectives.
A practical and professional skillset to help you:
  • plan and manage a sequence of work
  • communicate with and learn from others in an online environment
  • use feedback and self-reflection to improve your own learning
  • understand future study opportunities. 

Vocational relevance

This course has relevance for those interested in understanding the impact film and cinema has had on the global environment.

Learner support

Expert, confidential learner support is available when you need it from a learning adviser, who will respond to you directly. Other support is available via the course forum, dedicated website and computing helpdesk. 

If you have a disability

The course is delivered online and makes use of a variety of online resources. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in using a computer or the internet you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs.

Teaching and assessment


There's no formal assessment, although there will be three ‘review and reflect’ points built into the course which you'll use to reflect on your understanding.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations, which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Entry requirements

There are no entry requirements for this course.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact us.

Course length

You’ll study for around 8.5 hours per week for 6 weeks. In total this course will require around 50 hours to complete.


Start End Fee
- - -

No current presentation - see Future availability

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2026.

Ways to pay

Credit/Debit Card – We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron.

Sponsorship – If this course is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

The fee information provided here is valid for short courses starting in the 2024/25 academic year. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

All learning materials, exercises, study support and work-based activities are delivered entirely online. You’ll have access to a course website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific materials and activities
  • audio and video content
  • discussion forums.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS Ventura or higher.

Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.