Fieldwork: comb jellies

7 minutes

Don’t think twice

12 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Ping pong Sufi

11 minutes

Is Eric Cantona an existentialist?

3 minutes

No ball games

14 minutes

Take a shimmering, surreal swim with what might be the Earth’s oldest animals

Until recently, mainstream thinking in biology had long held that sponges were the first animal to emerge on the evolutionary tree. But over the past decade, a new wave of research argues that ctenophores, a phylum of sea invertebrates found in saltwater around the world, might be our oldest and most distant relatives. Featuring entrancing camerawork of ctenophores recorded by the US artist Charles Lindsay at Hope Island in British Columbia, Canada, Fieldwork: Comb Jellies offers a close-up look at the translucent creatures that have prompted the tree of life to be redrawn. As the jellies move across the frame, the quick movements of the fused cilia (or ‘comb rows’) they use to propel themselves diffracts the light into a rainbow, giving them an ethereal glow. Combining audio recorded at source with processed sounds from a variety of underwater microphones, Lindsay’s glitchy and immersive sound design gives the impression of a deep-sea swim on an otherworldly planet.

For more on ctenophores, read the Aeon essay Aliens in Our Midst.

Video by Charles Lindsay

As dementia trims the tree of knowledge in John’s brain, music holds firm

At the age of 24, John Fudge took a violent fall while climbing the white cliffs of Dover in the south of England, splitting open his head and losing consciousness. The extent of his injuries weren’t revealed until decades later, when doctors decided to perform a brain scan after John slipped into a deep depression. The results revealed extensive brain damage, including a progressive form of dementia. Now, 10 years on from his diagnosis, John’s wife Geraldine compares his brain to an oak tree, its limbs of knowledge being slowly trimmed away, causing John great mental anguish. His only relief comes when he’s able to live in the moment, such as when he plays guitar and sings – his musical abilities being an as-yet untrimmed branch. Don’t Think Twice offers an insight into John’s life, including visits from Jon, a young volunteer who joins him for music sessions at home. An affecting and unusually honest portrait of dementia, the UK director Harry Hitchens leaves his viewers to find relief and peace, like John, in the musical moments tucked in between difficult realities.

Director: Harry Hitchens

Producer: Chloe Abrahams

Website: Everyday Studio

‘I’m just measuring myself with myself’ – ping pong as a route to Sufi spiritual practice

A practitioner of the inward-looking form of Islam known as Sufism, Noah Nazir pursues self-improvement as a means of connecting with God. This is especially true at the ping pong table at his local Sufi centre in Sheffield, where Nazir is ever in search of new and creative ways to up his game. And, as he relays in Ping Pong Sufi, his striving has yielded some impressive results. Despite his age and a recent stroke, he’s one of the centre’s best players – even though, he stresses, he views his only competition as from within, commenting: ‘I’m just measuring myself with myself.’ The UK filmmakers Rachel Genn and Connor Matheson cultivate an appropriately meditative mood in their short documentary, made in 2019, capturing Nazir as he seeks transcendence through ping pong and prayer. The result is an illuminating and novel window into Sufi spiritual practice, which is given a musical lift by the multitalented Nazir, who also composed the song that plays over the closing credits.

Directors: Rachel Genn, Connor Matheson

What would Sartre make of the footballer who stood by his decision to kick a fan?

The most infamous kick of the French footballer Eric Cantona’s accomplished career wasn’t a game-winning goal, but rather an airborne attack on a fan who was shouting abuse at him during a match in 1995. When asked to reflect on the incident some two decades later, Cantona stated: ‘I love it and I don’t regret it … I am not a role model … I am just a human being with emotion.’ This short animation from the Illustrated Philosopher series – written by Nigel Warburton, consultant senior editor at Aeon – ponders whether Cantona proved himself an unlikely existentialist by refusing to succumb to the pressure to express contrition.

Writer and Narrator: Nigel Warburton

Animation: Cognitive Media

Immerse yourself in the games kids play when the streets are their playground

The London-based filmmaker Charlotte Regan’s charming documentary No Ball Games tracks the nuances of play between young friends in three working-class neighbourhoods across the UK. Capturing the joy of an aimless summer’s day spent finding fun, the film celebrates the instinctual ability of children to cook up their own entertainment from scratch – including, in this case, wresting directing duties from the filmmakers from time to time. With an immersive style, Regan’s film transports viewers into a world of resourcefulness, invention and fun that’s rarely accessed – and perhaps even forgotten – by those burdened by the quotidian concerns of adulthood.

Director: Charlotte Regan

Producer: Theo Barrowclough

Website: Guardian Documentaries

Take a shimmering, surreal swim with what might be the Earth’s oldest animals

Until recently, mainstream thinking in biology had long held that sponges were the first animal to emerge on the evolutionary tree. But over the past decade, a new wave of research argues that ctenophores, a phylum of sea invertebrates found in saltwater around the world, might be our oldest and most distant relatives. Featuring entrancing camerawork of ctenophores recorded by the US artist Charles Lindsay at Hope Island in British Columbia, Canada, Fieldwork: Comb Jellies offers a close-up look at the translucent creatures that have prompted the tree of life to be redrawn. As the jellies move across the frame, the quick movements of the fused cilia (or ‘comb rows’) they use to propel themselves diffracts the light into a rainbow, giving them an ethereal glow. Combining audio recorded at source with processed sounds from a variety of underwater microphones, Lindsay’s glitchy and immersive sound design gives the impression of a deep-sea swim on an otherworldly planet.

For more on ctenophores, read the Aeon essay Aliens in Our Midst.

Video by Charles Lindsay

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