An interview with Simone de Beauvoir

40 minutes

King of Saxony: otherworldly calls

4 minutes

How to make a rainbow

16 minutes

Daybreak express

5 minutes

I signed the petition

11 minutes

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‘I’m against all forms of oppression’: Simone de Beauvoir, in her own words from 1959

The French philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86) was at the height of her influence after she published her landmark feminist treatise The Second Sex (1949) and her acclaimed novel The Mandarins (1954). In the wake of the the Second World War, alongside Albert Camus and her lover Jean-Paul Sartre, she had set out to usher in a new society built around ideals of freedom and justice. In doing so, the trio had also helped to ignite movements in the US and France whose adherents sought to spread Existentialist philosophy through writing and art – or, at very least, have a raucous good time. By the time this interview with de Beauvoir aired on Canadian television in 1959, Camus and Sartre had already fallen out over Communism and abandoned the Existentialist label. Still, de Beauvoir is able to make a compelling point for the value of ideology even as she distances the values of the Existentialists’ cause from, in the interviewer’s words, the ‘noisy, rowdy jazz-loving young people’ they inspired. In this wide-ranging interview, de Beauvoir also discusses her views on the intersection of philosophy and political activism, and the condition of women worldwide, offering insights into the cultural moment as well as her deeply help beliefs on philosophy and the human condition.

For more on de Beauvoir, read this Aeon Idea.

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This bird-of-paradise in New Guinea sounds like something from another planet

Endemic to the mountain forests of New Guinea, the King of Saxony bird-of-paradise (Pteridophora alberti) is best-known for the flamboyant, mate-attracting efforts of its males. The bird’s courtship displays – which often double as a means of keeping competitors at a comfortable distance – make use of bright yellow breast feathers, wildly waving head plumes and peppy dance manoeuvres capped off with an exceptionally outsized, almost otherworldly bit of squawking. This video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a rare glimpse into the world of this idiosyncratic little bird, which has proven notoriously difficult to photograph in its rugged natural habitat.

Director: Tim Laman

Websites: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds of Paradise Project

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‘I live with a girl papa!’ Two years in the life of Alaizah and her trans mother Jade

How to Make a Rainbow is a glimpse into the life of a young girl, Alaizah, and her single mother, Jade, during two especially challenging years. Together, they face the challenges of Jade’s transition from male to female – including new pronouns, unsympathetic family members, stretches of homelessness and top surgery – with high spirits, love and honesty. Ryan Maxey, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and Jade’s longtime friend, traces the nuances and contours of the duo’s relationship with skill and affection, offering a gentle and intimate rendering of family, and a tribute to the openheartedness of children.

Director: Ryan Maxey

Producer: Jade Phoenix Martinez

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D A Pennebaker transformed documentary filmmaking. This is his first film

The US filmmaker D A Pennebaker – a pioneer of the documentary form – died on 1 August 2019 at the age of 94. He is perhaps best-known for his feature films Don’t Look Back (1967), a remarkable portrait of Bob Dylan while on a concert tour near the height of his fame, and The War Room (1993), which followed Bill Clinton’s run and eventual surprise victory in the 1992 US presidential election. Coming of age at a time when portable 16mm cameras with the ability to record sync sound on the fly allowed filmmakers newfound levels of freedom, Pennebaker was one of the first US documentarians to use the tools and aesthetics of cinéma vérité (or direct cinema), which emphasised recording reality with authenticity and representing stories truthfully.

With its frenetic pace, early morning hues, avant-garde touches, and playful use of shapes and patterns, Pennebaker’s first short, Daybreak Express (1953), made for a precocious debut. The sounds of an eponymous Duke Ellington composition form the film’s clattering backbone, as Pennebaker crafts an urban mosaic from Manhattan’s soon-to-be demolished Third Avenue elevated train line. While more experimental than much of the work he would be celebrated for later, Pennebaker’s career-long knack for kinetic editing, adventurous storytelling and skilfully marrying music and images still permeates nearly every frame. Today the impressionistic short plays not only as an ode to the dizzying dance of New York City transit, but the very power and potential of the documentary form itself.

Director: DA Pennebaker

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Two Palestinian friends debate the merits of boycotting a Radiohead gig in Israel

The Palestinian filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel was born in Dubai, raised in the Ein el-Helweh refugee camp in Lebanon, studied at the National Film and Television School in the UK, and now lives in Denmark. His debut feature documentary, A World Not Ours (2012), is a personal, melancholic and humorous exploration of his family’s experience of living as permanent refugees across three generations, and received widespread critical acclaim upon its release. 

His most recent film, the short documentary I Signed the Petition, takes a different approach to questions of Palestinian identity. From his apartment in Berlin one morning, the filmmaker calls his friend Faris in London, waking him up with an anguished question: did Fleifel make a mistake by signing a petition urging the UK rock band Radiohead to cancel their performance in Tel Aviv in July 2018? While Fleifel supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, he worries that adding his name to the Radiohead petition might bring unwanted attention from the Israeli government. As the phonecall progresses, the conversation moves beyond the potential consequences of signing, and the two friends grapple with the political and personal meanings of being Palestinian, the corrosive effects of intergenerational powerlessness, and the tangled contradictions of market morality. A complex account of how individuals make their own politics, Fleifel’s short was a favourite on the 2018 film festival circuit, winning honours at Visions du Réel, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and the Sarajevo Film Festival, among others.

Director: Mahdi Fleifel

Producer: Patrick Campbell

Website: Nakba FilmWorks

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‘I’m against all forms of oppression’: Simone de Beauvoir, in her own words from 1959

The French philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86) was at the height of her influence after she published her landmark feminist treatise The Second Sex (1949) and her acclaimed novel The Mandarins (1954). In the wake of the the Second World War, alongside Albert Camus and her lover Jean-Paul Sartre, she had set out to usher in a new society built around ideals of freedom and justice. In doing so, the trio had also helped to ignite movements in the US and France whose adherents sought to spread Existentialist philosophy through writing and art – or, at very least, have a raucous good time. By the time this interview with de Beauvoir aired on Canadian television in 1959, Camus and Sartre had already fallen out over Communism and abandoned the Existentialist label. Still, de Beauvoir is able to make a compelling point for the value of ideology even as she distances the values of the Existentialists’ cause from, in the interviewer’s words, the ‘noisy, rowdy jazz-loving young people’ they inspired. In this wide-ranging interview, de Beauvoir also discusses her views on the intersection of philosophy and political activism, and the condition of women worldwide, offering insights into the cultural moment as well as her deeply help beliefs on philosophy and the human condition.

For more on de Beauvoir, read this Aeon Idea.

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