Animated life: Pangea, Wegener and the continental drift

8 minutes

Musical traumas

10 minutes

Chunyun

7 minutes

Stay close

19 minutes

A Jew walks into a bar

24 minutes

How an Earth science outsider finally put the Pangea puzzle together

For centuries, scientists – and pretty much anyone who had ever laid eyes on a world map – noticed that the continents seemed to fit together like puzzle pieces. But it wasn’t until the German meteorologist Alfred Wegener became convinced that the continents once formed a mega-continent and had been drifting away ever since, that anyone truly began to understand why. While on a field expedition in Greenland in 1906-08, Wegener noticed how ice caps looked like puzzle pieces after they had fractured and drifted apart. He concluded that something similar must have happened with the continents and began publicising his ‘continental drift’ hypothesis in 1912. But even though it offered a compelling explanation for some of geology’s most fundamental unanswered questions, continental drift received an icy reception from the geology community, who viewed Wegener as a naive outsider. It wasn’t until 50 years later – well after his death during yet another Greenland expedition – that his theory, confirmed and slightly altered by the discovery of plate tectonics, became widely accepted.

Part of Sweet Fern ProductionsAnimated Life series, this short animation recounts Wegener’s extraordinary life story, and makes a case for the importance of outsiders and interdisciplinarity in science.

To learn more about continental drift and plate tectonics – and endemic sexism in the scientific community – watch Marie Tharp: Uncovering the Secrets of the Ocean Floor.

Director: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: BioInteractive

It’s great to learn music as a child – except when it’s no fun at all

There’s a romanticised view that learning music as a child is a profoundly enriching experience, that it’s a portal into a world of creativity and a means of achieving a host of secondary cognitive benefits. While learning an instrument is all of that and more for some people, music lessons can also be the locus of a very particular set of traumas, from the indignity of being forced to practise the piano with teacups on your hands to the paralysing performance anxiety that might surge forth at a dreaded recital. Composed of the true stories of unhappy music students rendered in varied animated styles, and shot through with an undercurrent of dark humour, this short from the Serbian filmmaker Miloš Tomić plumbs the depths of music education – including the gargantuan gap between fantasising about greatness and actually achieving it.

Director: Miloš Tomić

Producer: Iva Plemić Divjak

Chinese New Year is a stunning spectacle of human migration in 3 billion journeys

Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year), which starts on the new moon that falls between 21 January and 20 February, is celebrated by some 1.5 billion people around the world. And, as travel has become more affordable to China’s rapidly growing middle class, the holiday now accounts for an estimated 3 billion trips (called chunyun in Chinese), making the celebration the world’s largest annual human migration. The New York-based filmmaker Jonathan Bregel uses scenes of this extraordinary human flow to convey both the sheer magnitude of the movement of people and the moments of celebration that are a crucial aspect of the holiday.

Director: Jonathan Bregel

‘I feel the weight of everyone’: Keeth Smart foiled death to make it to the Olympics

Olympic athletes have, by definition, overcome overwhelming odds. But even among such a class of people, the US fencer Keeth Smart’s story stands out as extraordinary. He was the worst member of his high-school fencing club – which he joined only thanks to his talented sister (and future Olympian) Erinn – yet he ended up with a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, just four months after he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Combining family home videos, a voiceover from Smart and graphic-novel-style animations, Stay Close shows how a black kid from Brooklyn dealt with his challenges to succeed in a sport dominated by affluent white athletes – and became the first US fencer to top the world’s rankings.

Directors: Luther Clement, Shuhan Fan

Producer: Nevo Shinaar

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

How an Earth science outsider finally put the Pangea puzzle together

For centuries, scientists – and pretty much anyone who had ever laid eyes on a world map – noticed that the continents seemed to fit together like puzzle pieces. But it wasn’t until the German meteorologist Alfred Wegener became convinced that the continents once formed a mega-continent and had been drifting away ever since, that anyone truly began to understand why. While on a field expedition in Greenland in 1906-08, Wegener noticed how ice caps looked like puzzle pieces after they had fractured and drifted apart. He concluded that something similar must have happened with the continents and began publicising his ‘continental drift’ hypothesis in 1912. But even though it offered a compelling explanation for some of geology’s most fundamental unanswered questions, continental drift received an icy reception from the geology community, who viewed Wegener as a naive outsider. It wasn’t until 50 years later – well after his death during yet another Greenland expedition – that his theory, confirmed and slightly altered by the discovery of plate tectonics, became widely accepted.

Part of Sweet Fern ProductionsAnimated Life series, this short animation recounts Wegener’s extraordinary life story, and makes a case for the importance of outsiders and interdisciplinarity in science.

To learn more about continental drift and plate tectonics – and endemic sexism in the scientific community – watch Marie Tharp: Uncovering the Secrets of the Ocean Floor.

Director: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: BioInteractive

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From Voyage dans l'Amérique Méridionale, (v.IX, 1835-47), by Alcide Dessalines d'Orbigny. Courtesy the Biodiversity Heritage Library/Public Domain

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