Black rain

3 minutes

Kidnapper ants

5 minutes

A concerto is a conversation

14 minutes

The peace of wild things

1 minute

The Starr sisters

15 minutes

Celebrating the rough, the raw and the human in hardcore space science

Images of space and the solar system have a powerful appeal, and amaze with their vibrant otherworldly vistas. But it’s easy to forget just how processed they are: the colours are often added for effect, and digital editing makes these pictures pop. So it’s worth remembering the human process behind space as we know it. This is precisely the aim of Black Rain, which transforms raw scientific data into pulsating audiovisual art. The video careens through imagery captured by NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory mission: since its launch in 2006, it has compiled stereoscopic reproductions of solar ejections using twin satellites – one ahead of the Earth in its orbit, and another trailing behind. Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt – aka Semiconductor, the UK artist duo behind the video – say the images are a reminder of ‘the human observer, who endeavours to extend our perceptions and knowledge through technological innovation’. Black Rain is a companion piece to Semiconductor’s 20 Hz, and was originally exhibited as part of an installation at the Royal Academy in London in 2009-10.

Directors: Ruth Jarman, Joe Gerhardt

Website: Semiconductor Films

Incredible footage captures the ants that transform other species into loyal servants

You might assume that a creature incapable of feeding itself would have a one-way ticket off the food chain and into the dustbin of extinction. But some ant species with mandibles that are ill-equipped for eating have developed a clever – if not quite mutual – means of finding sustenance and perpetuating. Known as ‘kidnapper’ or ‘slave-making’ ants, these parasitic creatures raid the nests of other ant species, capture their young and carry them to their home nest. Using scents to keep the new arrivals oblivious to the fact that they’re far from home, the kidnappers deploy their captors to tend to their young, forage for their food, and even chew and feed it to them in a process known as trophallaxis. Captured in stunning high definition by the science documentary series Deep Look, this short video tracks red kidnapper ants in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California as they raid, kidnap and brainwash the young from a nearby black ant species’ nest. You can learn more about this video at KQED Science.

Video by KQED Science

Producer and Writer: Josh Cassidy

Narrator and Writer: Lauren Sommer

A piano virtuoso traces and scores the contours of his grandfather’s inspiring life story

The award-winning pianist Kris Bowers and his grandfather Horace Bowers, Sr were born on opposite sides of the United States, and some 60 years apart. Growing up in Los Angeles, Kris aspired to be a musician and composer from a young age – and had the natural talent to match. Raised in Florida amid Jim Crow, Horace wanted, above all else, to get out of the South, hitchhiking West as a teenager, where he would later start a successful small business in California. But, as the short documentary A Concerto Is a Conversation explores, what they share – including personal struggles with race and discrimination, ambitions to rise above the circumstances of their birth, and indistinguishable spirits – transcends the years between them. Featuring intimate cinematography from the Canadian director Ben Proudfoot and a stirring score provided by Kris Bowers himself, the film tracks the musical rhythms of a conversation between loved ones, and across the generations, with grace and heart.

Directors: Ben Proudfoot, Kris Bowers

Producer: Jeremy Lambert

Website: Breakwater Studios

The poet Wendell Berry reflects on the sublime peace of escaping into wilderness

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

The US writer, farmer and environmental activist Wendell Berry is a quintessential voice of the rural American South, with his poetry – very much in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson – often reflecting on the sublime and spiritual facets of nature. In one of his best-known poems, ‘The Peace of Wild Things’ (2012), a narrator, despairing at the state of the human world, finds relief in a journey into nature, being among ‘wild things/who do not tax their lives with forethought/of grief’. Part of an animated poetry series from the radio and podcast programme On Being, this adaptation features Berry himself narrating in a rich, rustic baritone, and lush watercolour imagery from the UK animator Katy Wang and the UK illustrator Charlotte Ager.

Directors: Katy Wang, Charlotte Ager

Writer and Narrator: Wendell Berry

After traumatic childhoods, two sisters dedicate their golden years to fun

Living together in sunny Santa Monica, California, in an apartment full of bright lights, colourful trinkets and candy, sisters Patte and Randa Starr are committed to having a happy childhood together – as septuagenarians. It might seem like a peculiar lifestyle choice, but once the two detail their traumatic early years, it’s easy to understand why they’ve opted for carefree lives of fun, guided by the creed: ‘Whoever wants it more, we’ll do it, and we don’t say no to each other.’ Despite the heavy topics addressed, the US filmmakers Bridey Elliott and Beth Einhorn’s portrait of the pair manages to be as charming as its subjects, matching the sisters’ irrepressible spirits with an appropriately flamboyant and eccentric visual style of its own.

Directors: Bridey Elliott, Beth Einhorn

Producer: Sarah Winshall

Website: Smudge Films

Celebrating the rough, the raw and the human in hardcore space science

Images of space and the solar system have a powerful appeal, and amaze with their vibrant otherworldly vistas. But it’s easy to forget just how processed they are: the colours are often added for effect, and digital editing makes these pictures pop. So it’s worth remembering the human process behind space as we know it. This is precisely the aim of Black Rain, which transforms raw scientific data into pulsating audiovisual art. The video careens through imagery captured by NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory mission: since its launch in 2006, it has compiled stereoscopic reproductions of solar ejections using twin satellites – one ahead of the Earth in its orbit, and another trailing behind. Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt – aka Semiconductor, the UK artist duo behind the video – say the images are a reminder of ‘the human observer, who endeavours to extend our perceptions and knowledge through technological innovation’. Black Rain is a companion piece to Semiconductor’s 20 Hz, and was originally exhibited as part of an installation at the Royal Academy in London in 2009-10.

Directors: Ruth Jarman, Joe Gerhardt

Website: Semiconductor Films

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Illustration by Tom Björklund

Essay/
Human evolution
Sheanderthal

Not all Neanderthals were ‘cavemen’: half were women. What can archaeologists tell us about how they lived?

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A northern gannet (Morus bassanus) breeding colony on Heligoland, Germany. Photo by Brais Seara/Getty

Essay/
Evolution
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Organisms do not evolve blindly under forces beyond their control, but shape and influence the evolutionary environment itself

Kevin Laland & Lynn Chiu