NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Between the Tides – Film

by Dr Aaron Burton and Madeline Goddard

Mangrove forests around the world are under threat. These often misunderstood ecosystems provide many benefits to the community such as carbon storage, storm protection, and wildlife habitat. The film follows Darwin fisherman Hiroaki Nakamura through the mangroves as he attempts to catch his 1000th barramundi without bait or boat. This film was made on the land of the Larrakia people, the Traditional Owners of the Darwin region.

We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present, and emerging as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of this land.

Still from Between the Tides, Burton 2022



Background Between the Tides is situated in the field of documentary filmmaking, specifically environmental documentary and communicating scientific knowledge. The role and composition of stories addressing climate change remains a pertinent and unresolved problem (Ghosh 2016; Morton 2013; Latour 2010; Haraway 2016). This research builds on Walter Benjamin’s (1936) critique of the circulation of information over storytelling in modern society and draws on Bill Nichols’ (2017) modes of representation to explore dynamic alignments of observational, participatory, and expository approaches and how they can be supplemented with innovations in unmanned imaging technologies. 

Contribution  Between the Tides is a short documentary video made by Aaron Burton and Madeline Goddard. The film is about the impacts of a changing climate and sea level rise on the mangrove forests of Darwin Harbour, in northern Australia, as experienced by a fisherman and a scientist. The film’s form and sequencing present an innovative oscillation between modes of documentary representation (Nichols 2017): the fisherman’s story adopts a participatory voice-over narration with observational imagery and continuity sequencing, in contrast to the scientist’s sequences that embrace the expositional mode characterised by illustrative imagery, dis-continuity editing, emotive music, and factual narration. The friction in style and voice between these stories problematises epistemological divergences in representations of ecological crises. Moreover, the strategic use of unmanned imaging technologies, such as drone footage and action cameras, reveals a leveling effect of non-anthropomorphic cameras to posit humans on the same existential plane as the natural landscape. The stark oscillation between modes of representation contributes new approaches and creative opportunities for the representation and communication of scientific knowledge within stories of climate change.

Significance The research project received a grant from the Northern Territory Government’s Inspired NT initiative to produce a science communication video for National Science Week in August 2020. Between the Tides was featured in the 2021 SCINEMA International Science Film Festival. The research project has been featured in the Australian Screen Production Education & Research Association’s Sightlines Journal, Issue 4, 2022, in which a reviewer observes “the main contribution to knowledge by the documentary is the contrasting of story and information, and their two roles in science communication”.


Aaron Burton Dr Aaron Burton is a Lecturer of Communication and Media at the University of Wollongong. He has wide-ranging industry experience from independent filmmaking to producing digital content for daily news to art installations and exhibitions. His creative media-arts practice includes numerous prizes and exhibitions, such as; 2012 Colombo Art Biennale, Hatched 07 National Graduate Show (PICA), Brisbane Airport Fresh Cut 2009 (IMA), and the inaugural Jeremy Hynes Award 2009 (IMA).  Burton uses creative practice-based research methods including visual ethnography, documentary, and scholarly publication to explore experiential storytelling. His doctoral research and corresponding documentary film titled Provenance in Personal Documentary: My Mother’s Village (2014) traverse scholarly work in documentary film, art history, cultural studies, and ethnography. His research extends to collaborative filmmaking within the academy, such as Sunset Ethnography (2014) with professors Stephen Muecke and Michael Taussig, and Alchemical World-Making (2022) with Dr Jo Law and Dr Agnieszka Golda.

Main image: Aaron Burton, Between the Tides, 2022 (Still)

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