Tusalava

9 minutes

Little brother

12 minutes

Lada

19 minutes

The great thinkers

8 minutes

A million to one

5 minutes

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Life emerges, evolves and fights for supremacy in this 1929 avant-garde classic

The New Zealand-born artist Leonard Charles Huia Lye (1901-80), better known as Len Lye, is renowned for his work in kinetic sculpture and experimental film, and is widely considered one of the most innovative modernists of the 20th century. Lye’s first film, Tusalava (1929), produced over two years following a move to London, was born of the city’s emerging experimental film scene and Lye’s abiding interest in Maori, Aboriginal and Samoan art. Composed of some 7,000 hand-drawn images, the abstract animation synthesises modern and ancient art as it depicts simple life forms emerging, evolving and coming into conflict. As with the influence of African art on Pablo Picasso, Lye’s use of so-called ‘primitivism’ has been both praised for introducing non-Western perspectives to Western art, and criticised for cultural appropriation. The film was originally paired with a now-lost piano score from the UK-born composer Jack Ellitt. This version features the UK composer Eugene Goossens’s composition Rhythmic Dance (1928), which Lye later suggested as an alternative accompaniment.

Director: Len Lye

Score: Eugene Goossens

Websites: The Len Lye Foundation, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

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Embarrassment is love when you’re hanging with your pre-adolescent kid brother

The Toronto-based filmmaker Dominique van Olm and her younger brother Dexter are separated by 13 years and hundreds of miles, so they spend very little time together. In Little Brother – a ‘hybrid of documentary and narrative fiction’ – van Olm takes that reality and turns it into an experiment in directing and bonding. For the project, Dexter flew to Toronto for the first time, and spent four days with his sister. Trailed by a barebones film crew, van Olm dutifully dragged Dexter to places she thought a 12-year-old boy might enjoy – including a pizzeria, an aquarium and a roller rink. The resulting short film, composed of brief, unscripted vignettes from their time together, is an accomplished and refreshingly restrained work. With a constant undercurrent of slight discomfort, subtle humour and very unspoken familial love, it traces the distinctive contours of this particular sibling relationship and the more universal afflictions of adolescence – inscrutable moods, halting communication and a perpetual state of embarrassment while in the company of family.

Director: Dominique van Olm

Producer: Darren Snowden

Website: Deviio

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Where Soviet cars go to not quite die – driving adventures in northern Russia

The Lada is a stalwart symbol of Soviet Russia. It has also been considered one of the worst cars ever made. Its heyday, if it had one, was in the 1970s, but a substantial number of vehicles remain on the roads today, and hold a special place in the hearts and minds of many Russians. To tell the story of this much-ridiculed car, the filmmaker Dieter Deswarte, the cinematographer Annegret Sachse and the sound engineer Yulia Glukhova travelled the Russian north, from Murmansk to Siberia, to find where the cheap and easily repairable – if reliably unreliable – vehicles are still in action. Along the way, they got to know a colourful range of drivers who recount the complexities of Lada ownership, and, more important still, show the car on the road – or sometimes what it takes to get it on the road. Undercutting broad Western stereotypes of a certain Russian dourness, the filmmakers find humour, warmth and kindness in their driving adventures across the icy landscape.

Lada debuted in 2014 as part of the award-winning omnibus documentary Cinetrain: Russian Winter. An ambitious and inventive filmmaking initiative, the Cinetrain project sent 21 filmmakers from around the world to all corners of Russia to explore its culture through the spectrum of stereotypes – from mail-order brides to heavy drinking. The project was inspired by the work of the influential Soviet Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Medvedkin (1900-89) who, in 1934, built a mobile film studio inside a train before setting out to document life across the country.

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The Bing Bang, reincarnation and other theories of life from budding philosophers

What’s the point of life? Kindness? Recycling? Leaving your body to science? This hybrid of animation and live-action from 2009 generates good fun and plenty of food for thought from its simple premise: asking children some of the most enduring questions in philosophy. While many of the answers – including an innovative ‘exploding monkey theory’ of Homo sapiens origins –  are simply great material for the accompanying animations, others brush up against the current limits of human understanding, prompting meaningful reflection on how we think about life. With its abundance of laugh-out-loud and heartfelt moments, the Montreal-based director Karina Garcia Casanova’s playful film is a worthy tribute to the deeply creative thinking of kids.

Director: Karina Garcia Casanova

Illustrator: James Braithwaite

Animator: Darren Pasemko

Producers: John Christou, Karina Garcia Casanova

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A Nobel laureate and a flea circus join forces for an unforgettable demonstration of inertia

The Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) was formed in 1956 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the mission to create science-education materials for US high-school classrooms. Extracted from a PSSC film from 1959, the first half of this short video finds the Nobel Prize-winning physicist E M Purcell from Harvard University detailing the basics of inertia with some help from a frictionless dry-ice puck – which, by his exceptionally impassive account, is a thing that’s ‘fun to play with’. The video gets a good deal stranger in the second half, which takes viewers on a field trip to Hubert’s Museum in New York City: a long-since defunct cabinet of 10-cent curiosities that was once a Times Square mainstay. There, Hubert’s famed in-house flea circus puts its considerable talents on display as the ringmaster leads a one-of-a-kind inertia demonstration. It all makes for an impressive proof of concept, and some delightfully dated fun.

Restoration: Tamur Qutab

Aeon for Friends

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Life emerges, evolves and fights for supremacy in this 1929 avant-garde classic

The New Zealand-born artist Leonard Charles Huia Lye (1901-80), better known as Len Lye, is renowned for his work in kinetic sculpture and experimental film, and is widely considered one of the most innovative modernists of the 20th century. Lye’s first film, Tusalava (1929), produced over two years following a move to London, was born of the city’s emerging experimental film scene and Lye’s abiding interest in Maori, Aboriginal and Samoan art. Composed of some 7,000 hand-drawn images, the abstract animation synthesises modern and ancient art as it depicts simple life forms emerging, evolving and coming into conflict. As with the influence of African art on Pablo Picasso, Lye’s use of so-called ‘primitivism’ has been both praised for introducing non-Western perspectives to Western art, and criticised for cultural appropriation. The film was originally paired with a now-lost piano score from the UK-born composer Jack Ellitt. This version features the UK composer Eugene Goossens’s composition Rhythmic Dance (1928), which Lye later suggested as an alternative accompaniment.

Director: Len Lye

Score: Eugene Goossens

Websites: The Len Lye Foundation, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

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