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George Saunders: on story

7 minutes

Allergy to originality

5 minutes

A view from the window

8 minutes

A day in Pompeii

9 minutes

This adorable sea slug is a sneaky little thief

4 minutes

A story is like a black box – you put the reader in there: George Saunders on storytelling

The US writer George Saunders is celebrated both for his masterful prose and empathic storytelling. A MacArthur Fellow and National Book Award finalist, Saunders’s first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, was released in 2017 to wide acclaim. In this short video, the author deconstructs what makes for an effective story, and describes his personal strategies for writing, revealing the importance of conversing with your characters, the pitfalls of fixing your intentions in place, and why good storytelling is a bit like being in love.

Directors: Tom Mason, Sarah Klein

Executive Producer: Ken Burns

Website: Redglass Pictures

A story is like a black box – you put the reader in there: George Saunders on storytelling

The US writer George Saunders is celebrated both for his masterful prose and empathic storytelling. A MacArthur Fellow and National Book Award finalist, Saunders’s first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, was released in 2017 to wide acclaim. In this short video, the author deconstructs what makes for an effective story, and describes his personal strategies for writing, revealing the importance of conversing with your characters, the pitfalls of fixing your intentions in place, and why good storytelling is a bit like being in love.

Directors: Tom Mason, Sarah Klein

Executive Producer: Ken Burns

Website: Redglass Pictures

Is reboot culture out of control? Or are we kidding ourselves that anything is original?

In 1903, Mark Twain defended his friend and fellow author Helen Keller against charges of plagiarism, writing in a letter: ‘The kernel, the soul – let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances – is plagiarism.’ Of course, even Twain’s screed against the concept of originality was hardly original. As the ancient Roman playwright Terence notes in his comedy The Eunuch: ‘Nothing has yet been said that’s not been said before.’ In this short firm, the US filmmaker Drew Christie turns a moviegoer’s complaint to a box-office attendant about a lack of originality in Hollywood into a madcap exploration of appropriation, adaptation and plagiarism in art and, more generally, human thought. Deploying hand-drawn animation and a stream of Wikipedia articles to droll comedic effect, the film approaches its topic in a manner you might just call ‘original’ – if you still cling to such silly notions.

Video by Drew Christie

What does school look and sound like when you and your classmates are deaf?

The California School for the Deaf (CSD) is a free school in Fremont and Riverside for deaf and hard-of-hearing students between the ages of three and 21. In A View from the Window, the US director Chris Filippone and the Iranian director Azar Kafaei observe a third-grade class at the school’s Fremont location. Taking a fly-on-the-wall approach, the directors capture the children as they fuss over the crayfish in the classroom fish tank, speak with a guest about his experience as a deaf black man, and hit the playground for recess. Through their immersive filmmaking, a vivid bilingual world emerges – one that, in many ways, is very much similar to a traditional elementary-school classroom. This touching short has been a film-festival favourite in 2018, appearing at the Palm Springs International Shortfest and the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, among others.

Directors: Chris Filippone, Azar Kafaei

From eruption to obliteration – the sights and sounds of 48 fateful hours in Pompeii

Before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on 24 August 79 CE, Pompeii was a thriving Roman port city and commercial hub near modern-day Naples, and home to an estimated 15,000 people. Closer to the mountain’s base and on the other side, the nearby town of Herculaneum, estimated population 5,000, was smaller, wealthier and a popular resort for elite Romans. After the eruption, both remained buried, their memories lost to time, until they were excavated and identified in the 18th century. In the years since, the continuing excavation of their eerily preserved buildings, artifacts and human remains have given archeologists and researchers an invaluable window into ancient Roman life.

The only firsthand account of the eruption comes from the author and lawyer Pliny the Younger. In his correspondence with the historian Tacitus, Pliny describes helplessly watching from nearby Misenum as the tragedy unfolds: 

Some wishing to die, from the very fear of dying; some lifting their hands to the gods; but the greater part convinced that there were now no gods at all, and that the final endless night of which we have heard had come upon the world. 

This animation, produced in 2009 for an exhibition at the Melbourne Museum, brings his harrowing words to stark and vivid life. Transporting viewers back to the morning of the eruption, the video recreates sights and sounds from that fateful day through to the following night, at which point both Pompeii and Herculaneum already lay buried deep in volcanic ash and debris.

Video by Zero One Studio

Far from sluggish: the remarkable sea creature that weaponises its dinner

Nudibranchs, also commonly known as sea slugs, are a group of snail-like sea invertebrates. Despite appearing more or less defenceless, nudibranchs broadcast their whereabouts with their flamboyant, brightly coloured bodies. From an evolutionary standpoint, it might seem like a curious move, but their luminous skin actually serves as a warning to would-be predators to let them know they’d make for a dangerous meal. While some nudibranchs accumulate toxins and other defensive chemicals in their bodies, others – like the star of this film – have an even craftier method of warding off enemies. This remarkable short from the science and nature documentary series Deep Look details the clever way that some nudibranchs protect themselves by stealing defences from stinging sea animals known as hydroids. You can read more about this video at KQED Science.

Video by KQED Science

Producer and Writer: Josh Cassidy

Narrator and Writer: Lauren Sommer

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