Giant Steps

2 minutes

Visitors

12 minutes

De artificiali perspectiva, or anamorphosis

14 minutes

Pien, queen of the bees

16 minutes

The greatest Briton?

5 minutes

Step into synaesthesia’s visual soundscape, built with the music of John Coltrane

The Israeli animator and artist Michal Levy is among the roughly 3 per cent of people who experience synaesthesia – a neurological condition in which people have a recurring sensory overlap, such as ‘tasting’ words or envisioning letters and numbers each with their own inherent colour. Levy possesses one of the most common forms of the condition, chromaesthesia, in which sounds and music provoke visuals. For her short film Giant Steps, Levy set out to convey her audiovisual experience of the John Coltrane composition ‘Giant Steps’ (1959). The resulting short animation is at once an intriguing window into the sensory world of a person with synaesthesia and an audiovisual delight, as Coltrane’s rollicking notes elicit a kinetic, cascading cityscape built from colourful blocks of sound.

To read more about synaesthesia, visit visit Aeon’s sister site, Psyche, a new digital magazine that illuminates the human condition through three prisms: mental health; the perennial question of ‘how to live’; and the artistic and transcendent facets of life.

Director: Michal Levy

In a remote town near Area 51, UFO believers and locals contemplate the beyond

‘I’ve never seen necessarily an alien but I’ve met some humans that might not be considered born here …’

In June 2019, a prank Facebook event titled ‘Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us’ went viral, with some 1.5 million users indicating – ironically or not – an interest in blitzing the famed US Air Force facility in Nevada, long rumoured to contain evidence of extraterrestrial life. By the time the event date arrived in September, most of the world had moved on from the gag. Ultimately, only about 1,500 people descended on the remote Nevada towns around Area 51 – the vast majority of whom had no real designs on storming the facility.

One such attendee was the New York-based filmmaker Scott Lazer, who travelled to the town of Rachel, Nevada, located 27 miles north of Area 51, where a small UFO-themed festival was taking place. There, he found the expected, eccentric collection of UFO diehards recounting sightings and contemplating the nature of extraterrestrial life. But Visitors, his short documentary account of the event, offers more than just an invitation to tour a peculiar subculture. As he interviews true believers and Rachel locals alike, a thread begins to emerge – of people striving to make sense of their place in a strange universe, and seeking connections with something greater than themselves.

Director: Scott Lazer

The Renaissance art illusion that proved everything is a matter of perspective

By the 16th century, European painters had become masterful at crafting illusions of perspective, giving viewers an impression of lifelike, three-dimensional depth on flat surfaces. Building on this well of Renaissance knowledge, a small handful of artists began pushing linear perspective further still, crafting works that required the viewer to occupy a single vantage point – or series of vantage points – in order to be fully understood. Today, this sort of visual illusion, known as anamorphosis, is responsible for viral internet phenomena such as the 3D street paintings of the Rome-based artist Kurt Wenner. At its inception, however, the technique was used to both provocative and whimsical effect, often adding subversive new meanings to works once revealed. In this short film, the celebrated US animation team Stephen and Timothy Quay, better known as ‘the Brothers Quay’, evoke a dark fairytale with their exploration of the technique, which combines stop-motion puppetry with some notable examples of anamorphosis from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Directors: The Brothers Quay

Producer: Keith Griffins

Website: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In between chemotherapy, 10-year-old Pien finds kinship with the honeybees she keeps

Pien is 10 and having treatment for cancer. After learning that crop pesticides and other human activities pose a mounting threat to bees and, by extension, the many foods they pollinate – she developed a passion for the creatures and took up beekeeping. Despite occasional stings, she finds a kinship with the insects, which, like her, are small, industrious and fighting for their survival. While her doctors are hopeful that Pien will make a full recovery, her chemotherapy treatments are an unwelcome intrusion on time she’d much prefer spending with her friends and her colony. With atmospheric cinematography and an observational style, the Dutch filmmaker Ellen Vloet’s short documentary Pien, Queen of the Bees is a sweet and touching portrait of childhood – even as weighty challenges for Pien and her hive hover throughout.

Director: Ellen Vloet

Director of Production: Roel van ’t Hoff

Hero or scoundrel? An iconoclastic biography of Winston Churchill

Most mainstream portrayals of Winston Churchill, such as the critically acclaimed film The Darkest Hour (2017), focus on his role in the Second World War, standing tall in the face of potential Nazi obliteration with a combination of brilliant foresight, fighting spirit and soaring rhetoric. While this is, of course, an important part of the celebrated British prime minister’s legacy, the characterisation paints an extremely incomplete picture of his life, leaving out a great number of important, unflattering facts. This short from the UK filmmaker Steve Roberts deploys a combination of claymation and biting iconoclasm to shine a light on the failing-up nepotism, political opportunism and murderous white supremacy that are often glossed over in surface-level treatments of Churchill’s biography.

Director: Steve Roberts

Step into synaesthesia’s visual soundscape, built with the music of John Coltrane

The Israeli animator and artist Michal Levy is among the roughly 3 per cent of people who experience synaesthesia – a neurological condition in which people have a recurring sensory overlap, such as ‘tasting’ words or envisioning letters and numbers each with their own inherent colour. Levy possesses one of the most common forms of the condition, chromaesthesia, in which sounds and music provoke visuals. For her short film Giant Steps, Levy set out to convey her audiovisual experience of the John Coltrane composition ‘Giant Steps’ (1959). The resulting short animation is at once an intriguing window into the sensory world of a person with synaesthesia and an audiovisual delight, as Coltrane’s rollicking notes elicit a kinetic, cascading cityscape built from colourful blocks of sound.

To read more about synaesthesia, visit visit Aeon’s sister site, Psyche, a new digital magazine that illuminates the human condition through three prisms: mental health; the perennial question of ‘how to live’; and the artistic and transcendent facets of life.

Director: Michal Levy

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Survival Piece I: Hog Pasture (1970-71) by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, for the exhibition ‘Earth, Air, Fire and Water’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison/The Harrison Studio

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