The house is black

22 minutes

De artificiali perspectiva, or anamorphosis

14 minutes

Pien, queen of the bees

16 minutes

The greatest Briton?

5 minutes

The psychologist who sparked the gay rights movement

7 minutes

A forceful, poetic appeal for dignity drawn from the harrowing images of leprosy

Forough Farrokhzad’s The House Is Black (1962) is a difficult film, a documentary that starts out telling the viewer that what is to come is horrifying, yet must be seen. The images of leprosy are indeed overwhelming and disturbing. Farrokhzad’s aim, however, is not to shock. Rather, she expressly wants us to see this ‘vision of pain no caring human being should ignore’ so that its ugliness can be erased. Although The House Is Black went relatively unnoticed on its release, it now often appears on critics’ lists of top documentaries, such as the BFI’s 50 Greatest Documentaries of All Time, and is widely considered one of the most influential Iranian films.

Director: Forough Farrokhzad

Producer: Ebrahim Golestan

The Renaissance art illusion that proved everything is a matter of perspective

By the 16th century, European painters had become masterful at crafting illusions of perspective, giving viewers an impression of lifelike, three-dimensional depth on flat surfaces. Building on this well of Renaissance knowledge, a small handful of artists began pushing linear perspective further still, crafting works that required the viewer to occupy a single vantage point – or series of vantage points – in order to be fully understood. Today, this sort of visual illusion, known as anamorphosis, is responsible for viral internet phenomena such as the 3D street paintings of the Rome-based artist Kurt Wenner. At its inception, however, the technique was used to both provocative and whimsical effect, often adding subversive new meanings to works once revealed. In this short film, the celebrated US animation team Stephen and Timothy Quay, better known as ‘the Brothers Quay’, evoke a dark fairytale with their exploration of the technique, which combines stop-motion puppetry with some notable examples of anamorphosis from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Directors: The Brothers Quay

Producer: Keith Griffins

Website: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In between chemotherapy, 10-year-old Pien finds kinship with the honeybees she keeps

Pien is 10 and having treatment for cancer. After learning that crop pesticides and other human activities pose a mounting threat to bees and, by extension, the many foods they pollinate – she developed a passion for the creatures and took up beekeeping. Despite occasional stings, she finds a kinship with the insects, which, like her, are small, industrious and fighting for their survival. While her doctors are hopeful that Pien will make a full recovery, her chemotherapy treatments are an unwelcome intrusion on time she’d much prefer spending with her friends and her colony. With atmospheric cinematography and an observational style, the Dutch filmmaker Ellen Vloet’s short documentary Pien, Queen of the Bees is a sweet and touching portrait of childhood – even as weighty challenges for Pien and her hive hover throughout.

Director: Ellen Vloet

Director of Production: Roel van ’t Hoff

Hero or scoundrel? An iconoclastic biography of Winston Churchill

Most mainstream portrayals of Winston Churchill, such as the critically acclaimed film The Darkest Hour (2017), focus on his role in the Second World War, standing tall in the face of potential Nazi obliteration with a combination of brilliant foresight, fighting spirit and soaring rhetoric. While this is, of course, an important part of the celebrated British prime minister’s legacy, the characterisation paints an extremely incomplete picture of his life, leaving out a great number of important, unflattering facts. This short from the UK filmmaker Steve Roberts deploys a combination of claymation and biting iconoclasm to shine a light on the failing-up nepotism, political opportunism and murderous white supremacy that are often glossed over in surface-level treatments of Churchill’s biography.

Director: Steve Roberts

The pioneering psychologist who proved that being gay isn’t a mental illness

‘What is called this year “evil” and whatever, next year may constitute the blessing of the human race.’

Throughout much of the 20th century in the United States, homosexuality was considered a mental illness by the medical establishment. This view created a cruel set of circumstances for gay people, as a lack of serious research into homosexuality allowed social institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and medical institutions could subject gay people to psychologically and physically damaging therapies.

This brief video essay explores the legacy of the late US psychologist Evelyn Hooker (1907-96), whose groundbreaking studies of homosexuality would help lay the groundwork for the modern gay rights movement. Inspired by her friendship with a gay student she met while teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles in the 1940s, Hooker began to study mental stability in straight and gay male populations. Ultimately, her work revealed that there was no correlation between homosexuality and psychological maladjustment. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association finally removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders amid pressure from gay rights activist, who cited Hooker’s pioneering work in their arguments.

Video by University of California

Website: Fig 1

A forceful, poetic appeal for dignity drawn from the harrowing images of leprosy

Forough Farrokhzad’s The House Is Black (1962) is a difficult film, a documentary that starts out telling the viewer that what is to come is horrifying, yet must be seen. The images of leprosy are indeed overwhelming and disturbing. Farrokhzad’s aim, however, is not to shock. Rather, she expressly wants us to see this ‘vision of pain no caring human being should ignore’ so that its ugliness can be erased. Although The House Is Black went relatively unnoticed on its release, it now often appears on critics’ lists of top documentaries, such as the BFI’s 50 Greatest Documentaries of All Time, and is widely considered one of the most influential Iranian films.

Director: Forough Farrokhzad

Producer: Ebrahim Golestan

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Saint John the Evangelist Causes a Pagan Temple to Collapse (c1370) by Francescuccio Ghissi. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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