The Fayum portraits

15 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Ping pong Sufi

11 minutes

Is Eric Cantona an existentialist?

3 minutes

No ball games

14 minutes

The trauma tracer

9 minutes

Haunting dispatches from the edge of the Roman Empire, just before its collapse

‘So, with imperious hand, fortune turns the wheel of change.’

The funerary paintings known as the ‘Fayum portraits’ are named for the Egyptian desert oasis region of Fayum, just west of the Nile, in which many of them have been found. Painted on the outskirts of the Roman Empire as it began to decline in the first centuries CE, these stark and hauntingly lifelike images were fashioned while their subjects were alive, and placed over their mummified bodies upon burial. Depicting diverse people of mostly modest means – including Greeks, Jews, Syrians and Roman bureaucrats – the portraits reveal the region as both a colonial outpost and a cultural melting pot, where outsiders adopted Egyptian cultural and religious practices, including mummified burial, as their own. Produced for an 1988 exhibition of Fayum portraits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, this short film pairs the paintings with excerpts from contemporary religious texts, dispatches from those living in Fayum at the time, and the guidance of the US art historian Richard Brilliant. The result is a rich window into daily life – and death – amid the fall of Rome.

Directors: Andrea Simon, Bob Rosen

Art Historian: Richard Brilliant

Website: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

‘I’m just measuring myself with myself’ – ping pong as a route to Sufi spiritual practice

A practitioner of the inward-looking form of Islam known as Sufism, Noah Nazir pursues self-improvement as a means of connecting with God. This is especially true at the ping pong table at his local Sufi centre in Sheffield, where Nazir is ever in search of new and creative ways to up his game. And, as he relays in Ping Pong Sufi, his striving has yielded some impressive results. Despite his age and a recent stroke, he’s one of the centre’s best players – even though, he stresses, he views his only competition as from within, commenting: ‘I’m just measuring myself with myself.’ The UK filmmakers Rachel Genn and Connor Matheson cultivate an appropriately meditative mood in their short documentary, made in 2019, capturing Nazir as he seeks transcendence through ping pong and prayer. The result is an illuminating and novel window into Sufi spiritual practice, which is given a musical lift by the multitalented Nazir, who also composed the song that plays over the closing credits.

Directors: Rachel Genn, Connor Matheson

What would Sartre make of the footballer who stood by his decision to kick a fan?

The most infamous kick of the French footballer Eric Cantona’s accomplished career wasn’t a game-winning goal, but rather an airborne attack on a fan who was shouting abuse at him during a match in 1995. When asked to reflect on the incident some two decades later, Cantona stated: ‘I love it and I don’t regret it … I am not a role model … I am just a human being with emotion.’ This short animation from the Illustrated Philosopher series – written by Nigel Warburton, consultant senior editor at Aeon – ponders whether Cantona proved himself an unlikely existentialist by refusing to succumb to the pressure to express contrition.

Writer and Narrator: Nigel Warburton

Animation: Cognitive Media

Immerse yourself in the games kids play when the streets are their playground

The London-based filmmaker Charlotte Regan’s charming documentary No Ball Games tracks the nuances of play between young friends in three working-class neighbourhoods across the UK. Capturing the joy of an aimless summer’s day spent finding fun, the film celebrates the instinctual ability of children to cook up their own entertainment from scratch – including, in this case, wresting directing duties from the filmmakers from time to time. With an immersive style, Regan’s film transports viewers into a world of resourcefulness, invention and fun that’s rarely accessed – and perhaps even forgotten – by those burdened by the quotidian concerns of adulthood.

Director: Charlotte Regan

Producer: Theo Barrowclough

Website: Guardian Documentaries

If trauma can be passed down, could new therapies blunt the transgenerational impact?

Growing up in a household where her biological parents provided foster care to kids in need, Bianca Jones Marlin was greatly affected by the stories of trauma that her siblings would share. Those childhood experiences, combined with a passion for science, inspires her work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University in New York. Through experiments with mice, Jones Marlin studies how trauma affects transgenerational epigenetic inheritance – or, more plainly, how the stress of traumatic experiences and environments can be passed down by parents to their future offspring, even when the stressors occur before pregnancy. And while making scientific leaps from mice to humans is always perilous, Jones Marlin’s research has proved promising, showing that stressors associated with certain odours in parents seem to make their pups more sensitive to those same smells. Ultimately, Jones Marlin hopes that her work can be used to help create therapies to improve outcomes for children who might be affected by transgenerational trauma.

Video by Science Friday

Director: Chelsea Fiske

Producer: Luke Groskin

Haunting dispatches from the edge of the Roman Empire, just before its collapse

‘So, with imperious hand, fortune turns the wheel of change.’

The funerary paintings known as the ‘Fayum portraits’ are named for the Egyptian desert oasis region of Fayum, just west of the Nile, in which many of them have been found. Painted on the outskirts of the Roman Empire as it began to decline in the first centuries CE, these stark and hauntingly lifelike images were fashioned while their subjects were alive, and placed over their mummified bodies upon burial. Depicting diverse people of mostly modest means – including Greeks, Jews, Syrians and Roman bureaucrats – the portraits reveal the region as both a colonial outpost and a cultural melting pot, where outsiders adopted Egyptian cultural and religious practices, including mummified burial, as their own. Produced for an 1988 exhibition of Fayum portraits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, this short film pairs the paintings with excerpts from contemporary religious texts, dispatches from those living in Fayum at the time, and the guidance of the US art historian Richard Brilliant. The result is a rich window into daily life – and death – amid the fall of Rome.

Directors: Andrea Simon, Bob Rosen

Art Historian: Richard Brilliant

Website: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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