The Mauritania Railway: backbone of the Sahara

13 minutes

Summerhill

28 minutes

Mercury in transit

1 minute

Romanticism: poetry and philosophy

20 minutes

Forms (process)

2 minutes

Careening through the desert, a massive railway sustains life in northwest Africa

Mauritania, on the northwest coast of Africa, is characterised by arid desert plains that make most of the country non-arable. Beneath the surface, however, the land is rich in the iron ore that sustains the Mauritanian economy. Since 1963, the Mauritania Railway, running 704 kilometres (roughly 440 miles) across unforgiving terrain, has connected the country’s inland mining centre, Zouérat, with the port city of Nouadhibou. With decades of drought forcing much of Mauritania’s once-nomadic population into urban areas, the railway has become increasingly vital to the country of four million, as food, goods and people join the iron ore onboard.

This short documentary by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Miguel de Olaso (aka Macgregor) casts the railroad as the backbone of the country. De Olaso combines a visually rich survey of its operations with information that supplements and sometimes undercuts the aestheticised cinematography, offering a compellingly immersive journey on transport, resources and demography.

Video by Macgregor

The school where children make the rules and learn what they want to learn

Established in 1921 by the Scottish writer and educator Alexander Sutherland Neill (1883-1973), Summerhill School in England helped to pioneer the ‘free school’ philosophy, in which lessons are never mandatory and nearly every aspect of student life can be put to a vote. Neill’s radical and controversial view of education was centred on his belief that ‘if the emotions are free, the intellect looks after itself’. Today, despite a series of clashes with Ofsted (the UK’s Office for Standards in Education) in the 1990s and 2000s, Summerhill still operates as a private boarding and day school in Suffolk for pupils from age five upwards.

Neill’s teaching methods and a rising countercultural movement inspired similar institutions to open around the world. Released in 1966, Summerhill explores the school’s educational philosophy by letting Neill and the many international pupils speak for themselves. Candid moments and scenes that evoke the rhythms of daily life at the school give a sense of the children’s lived experience. With an evenhanded approach, the film finds both potential pitfalls and benefits to a Summerhill education – including the results of letting children and teens run laissez-faire around the clock, and the possibilities for students who struggle in the rigid structures of traditional schools.

Director: Dennis Miller

Producer: Cecily Burwash

Website: National Film Board of Canada

Watch the rare, awesome spectacle as Mercury passes between the Earth and Sun

Although Mercury orbits the Sun once every 88 Earth days, the three bodies align only about 13 times a century due to the planets’ relative orbital planes. One such ‘Mercury transit’ occurred on 11 November 2019. This short video highlights the rare event as recorded by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory in a variety of ultraviolet light wavelengths. The resulting celestial spectacle demonstrates the vast size differences between the Sun and its nearest-orbiting planet to awesome effect. For NASA, however, the observation is more than just public outreach eye candy: scientists use these events to help understand the gravitational interactions of planets and stars in hopes of discovering planets outside our solar system.

Video by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Producer: Genna Duberstein

What can the Romantics teach us about confronting modern problems?

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
From ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ (1798) by William Wordsworth

The Romantic thinkers, poets, composers and artists valued emotion over reason. Reacting to the Enlightenment’s emphasis on rationalism, they embraced Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s dim view of modernity, expressed in The Social Contract (1762), that ‘Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.’ This analysis from the UK video essayist Lewis Waller uses three poems to trace Romanticism across three key movements – the writings of Francophone thinkers including Rousseau, the work of English poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, and the ideas of German philosophers, including F W J von Schelling and Friedrich Schlegel. In examining this artistic and intellectual history, Walker draws out several ways in which Romanticism offers a valuable humanistic perspective on urgent contemporary questions, including the climate crisis and poverty. Read more on the need for a new Romanticism in the face of scientism here.

Director: Lewis Waller

Video by Then & Now

Behold the invisible swoosh and swirl of athletic movement in digital art

Forms is a collaboration between the London-based visual artists Memo Akten and Davide Quayolas, and it generates dynamic digital art from the bodies of world-class athletes at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Inspired by modernist and early photographic interrogations of bodies in motion, such as Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2 (1912), the project, in Akten’s words, plays with ‘abstract forms, visualising unseen relationships – power, balance, grace and conflict – between the body and its surroundings’. Forms (Process) demonstrates the relationship between the source video imagery and the project’s resulting animations. Watch an excerpt from the final version of Forms here, and learn more about the inspiration behind the piece in this Twitter thread from Akten.

Video by Memo Akten, Quayola

Careening through the desert, a massive railway sustains life in northwest Africa

Mauritania, on the northwest coast of Africa, is characterised by arid desert plains that make most of the country non-arable. Beneath the surface, however, the land is rich in the iron ore that sustains the Mauritanian economy. Since 1963, the Mauritania Railway, running 704 kilometres (roughly 440 miles) across unforgiving terrain, has connected the country’s inland mining centre, Zouérat, with the port city of Nouadhibou. With decades of drought forcing much of Mauritania’s once-nomadic population into urban areas, the railway has become increasingly vital to the country of four million, as food, goods and people join the iron ore onboard.

This short documentary by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Miguel de Olaso (aka Macgregor) casts the railroad as the backbone of the country. De Olaso combines a visually rich survey of its operations with information that supplements and sometimes undercuts the aestheticised cinematography, offering a compellingly immersive journey on transport, resources and demography.

Video by Macgregor

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