Conectifai

11 minutes

Ins holz (In the woods)

13 minutes

H₂O

12 minutes

Live streamer

6 minutes

Furniture poetry

5 minutes

Frustrations, flirtations and family reunions – the first days of public wifi in Cuba

In 2016, many Cubans were able to access the internet for the first time when ETECSA, Cuba’s sole telecommunications provider, installed wifi routers in 18 public parks across the country. In Conectifai, the Cuban director Zoe Garcia captures the action at one such public hotspot in Havana, where people learn how to use the technology, struggle to secure bandwidth, and then connect to loved ones around the world. Using interviews, observational footage and the screens of various smartphones, Garcia absorbs us in intimate conversations between old friends and family – and in some cases new love interests. As the park expands from a place for local recreation into a venue for international, if virtual, meet-ups and reunions, other changes emerge – chairs are set up in places with a better signal, electric cords are stretched across pathways, and ‘pork cracklings with wifi’ become available. Developed through a partnership between the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema and Cuba’s International School of Film and Television (EICTV), Conectifai offers a very particular angle on Cuba’s rapidly changing culture and economy, a major shift that’s marked by the novelty of an act that is now quotidian for an ever-growing number of people around the world.

Director: Zoe Garcia

Producer: Sheyla Pool

Website: The Guardian

Surgeons with chainsaws – the breathtaking craft of logging on a Swiss mountainside

In most of the world, logging is now largely the work of massive machinery. But in the steeply sloped woods above Lake Ägeri in Switzerland, a combination of chainsaws, jacks, muscles and gravity is still the most effective means of bringing down trees for lumber. Once every four years, skilled loggers travel to the area to collect mature trees in a sustainable harvesting tradition that, in turn, allows saplings to take in sunlight and flourish. After felling the trees at careful angles, the workers send them careening through the woods with spectacular speed and force until they reach the water below with a satisfying splash. From there, the timber is floated downriver into town. The loggers’ confident expertise masks the immense dangers of the job, which could easily turn deadly in an instant. With stunning cinematography, Ins holz (In the woods) offers a rare look at this nearly extinct practice and the culture that surrounds it, making for a deeply visceral and visually stunning celebration of a hard day’s work.

Directors: Thomas Horat, Corina Schwingruber Ilic

Website: Mythenfilm

A meditative cinepoem from 1929 captures the reflective, ethereal wonders of water

The US photographer and filmmaker Ralph Steiner (1899-1986) is widely considered to be a pioneer of both media, celebrated for his century-spanning work in modernist photography and documentary and avant-garde film. H₂O (1929), his debut short and one of the earliest US art films, is a meditative, visual ode to water in its many forms, focused on the liquid’s various textures and shape-distorting reflective qualities. In a series of static yet dynamic shots, water-spewing pipes and fire hydrants, waterfalls, raindrops, slow-flowing streams, and the shimmering surfaces of near-stagnant bodies appear on screen, with the visuals gradually becoming more abstract as Steiner transitions to closeups of water surfaces. This version of the film features a new original piano score from the Illinois-based composer William Pearson, commissioned by Aeon. H₂O is frequently mentioned alongside another documentary touchstone of the same year: Regen, by the Dutch directors Joris Ivens and Mannus Franken, which celebrates Amsterdam in the rain.

Director: Ralph Steiner

Composer: William Pearson

When being watched is your work – life inside a Chinese live-streaming company

On China’s state-controlled internet, live-streaming fills a role similar to YouTube in the United States, allowing young people to keep up with, and even interact with, their favourite internet personalities. It’s also boomed into a multibillion dollar industry, driven by ‘gifts’ – small amounts of money sent from viewers to streamers – and brand partnerships. Live Streamer chronicles a day in the life of one Beijing-based web personality, Jing Zi, as she offers beauty tips, sings songs and, most popularly, eats for her young fanbase. The work is challenging, requiring her to entertain viewers for up to seven hours a day, but she also says it feels good to be cared for by so many fans. Live Streamer is part of the Shanghai-based US filmmaker Noah Sheldon’s Work-is documentary series, which ‘sets out to catalogue the labour force of China in a more intimate and granular way, using voices and personal histories to colour the notion of what it means to be working in modern China’.

Director: Noah Sheldon

Producer: Jean Liu

Playing peekaboo with Wittgenstein: what do objects do when we’re not looking?

Warning: this film features rapidly flashing images that can be distressing to photosensitive viewers. 

‘What prevents me from supposing that this table either vanishes or alters its shape when no one is observing it, and then when someone looks at it again, changes back? But one feels like saying – who is going to suppose such a thing?’ – Ludwig Wittgenstein in On Certainty (1969)

Inspired by the Austrian philosopher’s posthumously published words above on the limits of human perception to account for the outside world, the UK filmmaker Paul Bush constructed the experimental short Furniture Poetry (1999). The stop-motion animation brings to life a universe where fruits, furniture and tableware shift colour and shape when we’re not looking. The result is a simultaneously jarring and amusing visual poem – a dizzying, madcap meditation on our uncertain reality and the limits of knowledge.

Director: Paul Bush

Frustrations, flirtations and family reunions – the first days of public wifi in Cuba

In 2016, many Cubans were able to access the internet for the first time when ETECSA, Cuba’s sole telecommunications provider, installed wifi routers in 18 public parks across the country. In Conectifai, the Cuban director Zoe Garcia captures the action at one such public hotspot in Havana, where people learn how to use the technology, struggle to secure bandwidth, and then connect to loved ones around the world. Using interviews, observational footage and the screens of various smartphones, Garcia absorbs us in intimate conversations between old friends and family – and in some cases new love interests. As the park expands from a place for local recreation into a venue for international, if virtual, meet-ups and reunions, other changes emerge – chairs are set up in places with a better signal, electric cords are stretched across pathways, and ‘pork cracklings with wifi’ become available. Developed through a partnership between the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema and Cuba’s International School of Film and Television (EICTV), Conectifai offers a very particular angle on Cuba’s rapidly changing culture and economy, a major shift that’s marked by the novelty of an act that is now quotidian for an ever-growing number of people around the world.

Director: Zoe Garcia

Producer: Sheyla Pool

Website: The Guardian

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