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EXCLUSIVE

Walter Potter: the man who married kittens

19 minutes

Can food nourish your soul?

2 minutes

Birth control your own adventure

5 minutes

The acrobatic fly

3 minutes

What the psychic saw

5 minutes

Long before internet posts of cute animals, there were Victorian taxidermy tableaux

Born in the English village of Bramber in 1835, the Victorian-era taxidermist Walter Potter created a collection of anthropomorphic dioramas that continued to attract thousands of visitors until it was controversially dispersed at auction in 2003. His intricately detailed scenes of stuffed little animals frozen in distinctly human situations – kittens at a wedding, frogs in a playground, rabbits in a classroom – tend to be dismissed as creepy or kitsch by the art establishment. But that attitude is resented as snobbery by Potter collectors, who argue that his curious creations are inspired Victorian artifacts worthy of veneration and preservation. A portrait both of popular entertainment from a bygone age and of those who prize it as art, Walter Potter: The Man Who Married Kittens was commissioned by Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum and played at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

Director: Ronni Thomas

Producer: Joanna Ebenstein

Executive Producers: Tonya Hurley, Tracy Hurley Martin

Editor: Will Ellis

Photographer: Robert Carnevale

Composer: Stephen Coates

Website: Morbid Anatomy Museum

Liberation of the soul through diet – how a Jain ascetic lives

‘Soul requires spirituality. Soul does not require food.’

Nonviolence towards all forms of life is a cornerstone of Jainism, a nontheistic Indian religion that dates back to the 6th century BCE, and today has around 7 million followers. To Jainism’s strictest adherents, even a walk through the grass or drinking tea with honey can be a morally perilous proposition, given the soul-possessing living things, from plants to insects to microbes, that can be harmed in the process. Part of a video series on the intersection of food and spirituality by the Italian-born, London-based filmmaker Matan Rochlitz, this short features a Jain ascetic discussing how a restricted diet (mostly water and dry grains) guides his spiritually.

Director: Matan Rochlitz

Period drama: one woman’s journey through birth control

The multitude of female birth-control products on the market hardly means there’s a perfect option for everyone. From the combined oral contraceptive (commonly known as the Pill), to the IUD (intrauterine device, aka the coil) to the NuvaRing, the availability of choice can mask one major downside: for some, the side-effects of birth control are a problem in their own right. In her short film Birth Control Your Own Adventure, the Pakistani-American filmmaker Sindha Agha presents her personal journey through all the options, starting at age 11, when she was prescribed the Pill for the pain of endometriosis. Agha relates her struggle to find the least-worst option with witty visuals and a vivid design. In its intimate detail, the short is especially enlightening for those who don’t menstruate, prompting the question: what about male birth-control products?

Director: Sindha Agha

Feet of strength! Spotlight on the amazing agility of houseflies

Pesky though they might be, houseflies are remarkable biological specimens – strong enough to carry up to half their own body weight and, as you’ve likely noticed when trying to swat one, exceptionally quick and nimble. For his 1910 short The Acrobatic Fly, the pioneering British naturalist and filmmaker F Percy Smith put the strength and dexterity of houseflies on display, filming one as it juggled items including a cork and a miniature barbell. Perhaps most impressive, however, is a sequence that features a fly rotating a ball with another fly balancing atop it, like a tiny circus act. For more slightly creepy early film fun from F Percy Smith, watch To Demonstrate How Spiders Fly.

Director: F Percy Smith

The psychic, the skeptic and the life-and-death prophecy that came true

When the US filmmaker Matthew Palmer’s mother was 28 and childless, she received an unsettling prediction from a psychic: she would have a son, and her husband would die when their son was 13, but it would be ‘okay’. Uninterested in having children and skeptical of psychics, she wrote it off for a time. But when she finally did have a son following a nearly fatal and life-altering case of pneumonia, the prediction creeped back into her mind. She then often used the story, half-jokingly, to warn her husband about his smoking habit. And when Palmer was 13, his father died suddenly of cardiac arrest. Constructed from old home videos and phone conversations with his mother, Palmer’s deeply personal film What the Psychic Saw reflects on his father’s death in the context of the uncanny prediction. An unusual meditation on grief, the short offers no easy answer for the psychic’s eerily accurate words, or whether unexpectedly losing a close, beloved family member can ever really feel ‘okay’.

Video by Matthew Palmer

Long before internet posts of cute animals, there were Victorian taxidermy tableaux

Born in the English village of Bramber in 1835, the Victorian-era taxidermist Walter Potter created a collection of anthropomorphic dioramas that continued to attract thousands of visitors until it was controversially dispersed at auction in 2003. His intricately detailed scenes of stuffed little animals frozen in distinctly human situations – kittens at a wedding, frogs in a playground, rabbits in a classroom – tend to be dismissed as creepy or kitsch by the art establishment. But that attitude is resented as snobbery by Potter collectors, who argue that his curious creations are inspired Victorian artifacts worthy of veneration and preservation. A portrait both of popular entertainment from a bygone age and of those who prize it as art, Walter Potter: The Man Who Married Kittens was commissioned by Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum and played at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

Director: Ronni Thomas

Producer: Joanna Ebenstein

Executive Producers: Tonya Hurley, Tracy Hurley Martin

Editor: Will Ellis

Photographer: Robert Carnevale

Composer: Stephen Coates

Website: Morbid Anatomy Museum

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