A Jew walks into a bar

24 minutes

The clinic

16 minutes

Out of the blue

8 minutes

Soft awareness

13 minutes

Kitezh-Vladimirskoe

9 minutes

Being a stand-up comedian is hard. It’s even harder when it’s against your religion

Have you heard this one before? An ultra-Orthodox Jew breaks the rules by going online, falls in love with stand-up comedy, and starts performing in clubs to help manage his crippling social anxiety. With deadpan delivery, and often wearing traditional Jewish Orthodox clothing, David Finkelstein has developed a comedic sensibility that connects with audiences at open mics in New York City. But even as he grows ever more comfortable on stage and finds a second home in the comedy community, the experience is rife with challenges and compromises. Finkelstein is still devout and attempts to adhere to as many of his religion’s rules as possible, even as he operates in a cultural ‘grey area’ by performing. This means no physical contact with women, no vulgarity, and no shows on the Sabbath, which nixes the desirable slots on Friday and Saturday night. And, most challenging of all, it means navigating between two very different worlds as he tries to keep the faith while pursuing his passion.

An endearing fish-out-of-water tale that grapples meaningfully with questions of religious values, culture and mental health, A Jew Walks into a Bar follows Finkelstein as he tries to establish himself in the stand-up scene. The short is one-third of the US filmmaker Jonathan Miller’s feature-length documentary Standing Up (2019), which follows three unlikely stand-ups as they pursue comedy in New York.

Director: Jonathan Miller

Producers: Colin Bernatzky, Katharine Accardo

Website: Standing Up

Basic healthcare and clean needles is all in a day’s work at a roving addiction clinic

Marc Lasher works as an addiction medicine specialist but, between his regular appointments, he oversees a clean-needle exchange on the streets of Fresno County in California, out the back of a modified school bus. Lasher’s decades-long dedication to public health is all the more impressive considering that his programme was illegal in the state until 2012. In the wake of the opioid epidemic, his approach – addressing drug addiction as a matter of public health rather than criminality – has only recently come into favour in much of the United States. In this acclaimed documentary, the US filmmaker Elivia Shaw follows Lasher and a team of young volunteers as they provide people coping with addiction with clean needles, as well as basic medical care and referrals to specialists and detox centres. The result is both a moving testament to Lasher and his team’s selfless work and a damning indictment of a healthcare system in which unaddressed health issues, costs and the physical and emotional tolls of poverty compound each other relentlessly.

Director: Elivia Shaw

Jim Hall, 78, has a blue body – but his outlook on life is more unusual still

‘I decided it was OK to have fun with my body … I probably have more balls than anybody!’

Jim Hall worked in urban development for four decades before retiring as the principal city planner of Baltimore. Aged 78 and beginning to feel some of his faculties slip, he is planning a move to Texas to live out his final years. These unremarkable details of his biography might seem at odds with his unique look – most conspicuously, the blue tattoo covering almost every inch of his skin. But despite the unusual choices he’s made to modify his body – including some unusual, intimate augmentations hidden from view – Hall’s outlook on life is deeply practical, centred on playfulness and an enduring sense of gratitude for what he sees as the incredible gift of being a human. With a palette that complements Hall’s own chosen colours, this short documentary from the US directors Jonathan Bregel and Steve Hoover finds wonder and wisdom in a man who is as hard to define as he is plain-spoken and pragmatic.

Directors: Jonathan Bregel, Steve Hoover

Website: friendzone

What’s it like to chat with an AI that mimics you? Uncanny conversations with Replika

Replika is a chatbot that was launched in 2017 with the aim of offering users emotional support – or, as the company’s advertising copy puts it, becoming their ‘AI friend’. To give users a personalised experience, the deep learning bot gathers information about conversation partners by asking them questions, adapts to their conversational style and, over time, attempts to mimic them. Beyond companionship, Replika’s creators believe that the technology could eventually serve as a conversational stand-in for deceased loves ones.

In Soft Awareness, Anastasia Sif Karkazis, a Danish film student and co-director of the film, engages in a series of conversations with Replika, drifting between a series of loosely connected subjects – including art, dreams and identity. Throughout, the exchanges seem to teeter between meaningful and unintelligible, offering a window on Karkazis’s inner world, how Replika ‘understands’ her, and the many hazy areas in between. Beneath the surface of these uncanny exchanges, larger questions about privacy and the contours of intimacy between humans and AI slowly emerge.

Via Labocine

Directors: Cecilie Flyger, Olivia Mai Scheibye

Co-director: Anastasia Sif Karkazis

Website: Copenhagen School of Film and Photography

Postcards from Vladimirskoye – the sleepy town near the ‘Russian Atlantis’

According to Russian legend, in the 13th century, the mythical city of Kitezh was on the verge of being ransacked by Mongols when its residents began to pray. In an instant, water spouted from the earth, at once submerging the city and protecting Kitezh from invaders. Today, in the Nizhny Novgorod region, Lake Svetloyar – the body of water that Kitezh supposedly sunk into – is a tourist destination for both the faithful and those simply wishing to enjoy its beaches. The flow of visitors, however, barely touches the small town of Vladimirskoye just a kilometre away. In Kitezh-Vladimirskoe, the Dutch photographer and filmmaker Pieter Ten Hoopen depicts town life in a series of intertwining tableaux – baptisms, kids on their bikes, old men shouting from windows – all suffused with a comically incongruent soundtrack. It’s an offbeat, charming portrait of a place, like a series of moving postcards from an ordinary town off the tourist track.

Director: Pieter Ten Hoopen

Being a stand-up comedian is hard. It’s even harder when it’s against your religion

Have you heard this one before? An ultra-Orthodox Jew breaks the rules by going online, falls in love with stand-up comedy, and starts performing in clubs to help manage his crippling social anxiety. With deadpan delivery, and often wearing traditional Jewish Orthodox clothing, David Finkelstein has developed a comedic sensibility that connects with audiences at open mics in New York City. But even as he grows ever more comfortable on stage and finds a second home in the comedy community, the experience is rife with challenges and compromises. Finkelstein is still devout and attempts to adhere to as many of his religion’s rules as possible, even as he operates in a cultural ‘grey area’ by performing. This means no physical contact with women, no vulgarity, and no shows on the Sabbath, which nixes the desirable slots on Friday and Saturday night. And, most challenging of all, it means navigating between two very different worlds as he tries to keep the faith while pursuing his passion.

An endearing fish-out-of-water tale that grapples meaningfully with questions of religious values, culture and mental health, A Jew Walks into a Bar follows Finkelstein as he tries to establish himself in the stand-up scene. The short is one-third of the US filmmaker Jonathan Miller’s feature-length documentary Standing Up (2019), which follows three unlikely stand-ups as they pursue comedy in New York.

Director: Jonathan Miller

Producers: Colin Bernatzky, Katharine Accardo

Website: Standing Up

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