Sarah’s first solo book chapter, “Filming with Nonhumans,” published in editor Phillip Vannini’s The Routledge International Handbook of Ethnographic Film and Video.

Extending from millennia of Western beliefs in human superiority, the history of film is loaded with disregard for nonhuman participants, be they main actors, cast in supporting roles, or present as “background.” As Collard (2016) expands on, from its early days, film has revolved around the notion that animals are disposable (Bousé, 2000). In 1903, Thomas Edison had Topsy, a circus elephant in New York, publicly electrocuted so he could capture the event on film (Collard, 2016). … In recent decades, filmmakers and audiences have grown more demanding of humane treatment of animals and ecosystems (Bradley, 2017).
(Abbott, 2020, pp. 224-225)

Abbott, S. (2020). Filming with Nonhumans. In Vannini, P. (Ed.), The Routledge International Handbook of Ethnographic Film and Video, (pp. 224-233). London, UK: Routledge.


The history and traditions of ethnographic and filmic approaches to research, methods, and representation have largely been human-centered. This chapter offers ways to reconsider anthropocentric approaches for holistic research with nonhuman participants in order not to separate nonhumans from their known spaces and ways of being, or disregard their needs and realities as individuals and as community. Western and Indigenous worldviews, the treatment of nonhumans in the history of film, and potentials and limitations of different filmmaking styles are touched upon. Analysis of the films Mountain, directed by Jennifer Peedom, and Sea of life, directed by Julia Barnes, provide examples of representations of nonhumans in ethnographic film. Developments in technology that enable researchers and filmmakers greater opportunities to probe and mediate understandings of nonhuman worlds require critical, ethical, and reflexive attention to the impacts these technologies have on nonhuman worlds, and ways they are represented. It is vital that researchers first take time to make connections with nonhuman participants. Heartful intention, embodied engagement, intuitive knowing, and direct communication with nonhumans offer mutuality in relations and constitute a practice that requires gentle patience as we repattern toward re-knowing.


Bradley, L. (2017, January 23).What really happened to that dog on the set of a dog’s purpose? [updated]. Vanity Fair. Retrieved from

Bousé, D. (2000). Wildlife films. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Collard, R. C. (2016). Electric elephants and the lively/lethal energies of wildlife documentary film. Area, 48(4), 472–479.

Link to book here.

Book cover + header image: Photo credit TBA.