My brother’s keeper

21 minutes

The Mozart effect

5 minutes

Thai country living

15 minutes

It’s rocket science

5 minutes

A brief history of the devil

5 minutes

A former Guantánamo Bay prisoner and his guard reunite as equals 13 years later

Born in Mauritania in northwest Africa, Mohamedou Ould Salahi was living in Germany on a college scholarship when he travelled to Afghanistan to support Al-Qaeda’s US-backed fight to topple the country’s Soviet-supported government in 1990. Although he says he extinguished all ties with the militant Islamist group in 1992, and was never formally charged with a crime, accusations of Al-Qaeda links trailed him until, in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the US of 11 September 2001, he was detained from Mauritania by the US government. Salahi was ultimately transported to the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, where he was repeatedly tortured, before being released back to Mauritania in 2016. While jailed, he became an unlikely international bestselling author after the publication of his memoir, Guantánamo Diary (2015). Salahi’s book was subsequently adapted into the feature film The Mauritanian (2021).

The short documentary My Brother’s Keeper from the UK filmmaker Laurence Topham captures Salahi’s post-release life in Nouakchott, Mauritania, a country he’s now not allowed to leave, and where he’s attempting to adjust to something resembling normality. In particular, the film focuses on Salahi’s reunion with Steve Wood – a Guantánamo guard who showed him kindness, friendship and the many pleasures of the Coen brothers’ film The Big Lebowski (1998) while Salahi was imprisoned. The visit marks their first meeting in 13 years, as well as their first since Wood, inspired in part by Salahi, converted to Islam. Boosted by Salahi’s infectious charm, the film provides a moving testament to the power and durability of human connection, even in the unlikeliest of places.

No, Mozart isn’t a brain hack for babies – here’s how music really affects intelligence

In 1991, a small study conducted at the University of California, Irvine found that young adults received a modest brain boost from listening to Mozart before performing small mental tasks. From this, an exaggerated mythology surrounding what became known as ‘the Mozart effect’ emerged, linking exposure to classical music with heightened intelligence – especially in babies. In this animation, the UK broadcaster and psychologist Claudia Hammond dissects how a mania for this Mozart effect took hold, and what the research on music and intelligence actually says. In doing so, the short video also provides a telling look at how academic studies are often distorted and overstated in the media and in the public imagination.

Video by BBC Reel

The rhythms of rural Thailand, where both food and music are sourced from the ground

Thai Country Living is a film with a title that doesn’t leave you wondering. This charming short documentary by the UK filmmakers Ben and Dan Tubby (also known as the Tubby Brothers) takes viewers on a brief journey to the Isaan region, in Thailand’s northeast. The host for the trip, Suman Tapkham, provides the home cooking, with ingredients fresh from his small farm; the music comes via a bamboo instrument known as a khaen, which Tapkham crafts by hand; and the warm conversation is largely made of reflections on his life spent in the country, and his worries that the unique culture there might soon be lost. Through their portrait, the Tubby Brothers capture a slice of Thailand far from the bustle of Bangkok most commonly associated with the country, and, for many viewers, a more than welcome portion of armchair travel.

Directors: Ben Tubby, Dan Tubby

Producer: Somboon Vichaisre

Website: Tubby Brother Films

How sky-high dreams launched one man’s audacious life in homemade rocketry

As the first civilian to successfully launch an amateur rocket into space in 2004, and a holder of a great many rocketry-related world records since the 1960s, Ky Michaelson has truly earned his self-anointed title as ‘The Rocketman’. Following a decorated career as a Hollywood stunt performer and coordinator, Michaelson, now aged 82, is retired from show business and spends most of his time building rockets in his garage. And his audacious spirit hasn’t mellowed with age. These days, he has his sights set on launching the first homemade manned rocket into space. This upbeat documentary portrait by the US-based director Rachel Knoll explores Michaelson’s unconventional path as a high-school dropout turned rocket engineer who wouldn’t let dyslexia stop him from aiming for the sky.

Director: Rachel Knoll

Producer: John Pesavent

The devils you know – how Satan became a versatile stand-in for all manner of evil

From the three-headed man-eater of Dante’s Inferno to the Mephistopheles of German folklore, clad and caped in red in a Goethe-penned stage production, depictions of Satan have mutated into a fearsome multitude of pitchfork-wielding, fire-summoning and otherwise malevolent creatures. But how did a somewhat minor character from the Old Testament evolve into a versatile shorthand for all manner of human evil? Featuring a parade of the many meme-ified devils that have come to permeate the public imagination, this crafty animation from TED-Ed provides a brief history of how some of Satan’s most infamous forms came to be.

Video by TED-Ed

Directors: Reza Riahi, Mehdi Shiri

Writer: Brian A Pavlac

A former Guantánamo Bay prisoner and his guard reunite as equals 13 years later

Born in Mauritania in northwest Africa, Mohamedou Ould Salahi was living in Germany on a college scholarship when he travelled to Afghanistan to support Al-Qaeda’s US-backed fight to topple the country’s Soviet-supported government in 1990. Although he says he extinguished all ties with the militant Islamist group in 1992, and was never formally charged with a crime, accusations of Al-Qaeda links trailed him until, in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the US of 11 September 2001, he was detained from Mauritania by the US government. Salahi was ultimately transported to the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, where he was repeatedly tortured, before being released back to Mauritania in 2016. While jailed, he became an unlikely international bestselling author after the publication of his memoir, Guantánamo Diary (2015). Salahi’s book was subsequently adapted into the feature film The Mauritanian (2021).

The short documentary My Brother’s Keeper from the UK filmmaker Laurence Topham captures Salahi’s post-release life in Nouakchott, Mauritania, a country he’s now not allowed to leave, and where he’s attempting to adjust to something resembling normality. In particular, the film focuses on Salahi’s reunion with Steve Wood – a Guantánamo guard who showed him kindness, friendship and the many pleasures of the Coen brothers’ film The Big Lebowski (1998) while Salahi was imprisoned. The visit marks their first meeting in 13 years, as well as their first since Wood, inspired in part by Salahi, converted to Islam. Boosted by Salahi’s infectious charm, the film provides a moving testament to the power and durability of human connection, even in the unlikeliest of places.

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Limestone frieze (c146 BCE) with inscription in Numidian; half of a bilingual inscription, the other half being Punic from the mausoleum of Ateban at Dougga, Tunisia. Courtesy the Trustees of the British Museum, London

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Africa writes back

European ideas of African illiteracy are persistent, prejudiced and, as the story of Libyc script shows, entirely wrong

D Vance Smith