160 characters

11 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Elsewhere

30 minutes

Acadiana

10 minutes

Dani

8 minutes

The physarum experiments

5 minutes

The story of a breakup, an unplanned pregnancy and a childhood – told in 100 texts

In 2003, when flip phones still ruled the world, the UK director and artist Victoria Mapplebeck found herself on the verge of a promising relationship with a man she had matched with through a dating agency. But just a few weeks later, her life was forever altered by an abrupt breakup and the subsequent news of an unplanned pregnancy. A decade later, she was inspired to revisit the painful story after charging up an old Nokia phone and recovering the text messages she and the man had sent one another over the course of three years. Mappelbeck’s resulting short documentary, 160 Characters, uses 100 texts to tell the story of how the two met, split up and lost touch, leaving her to raise their son Jim without a father in his life. As emotionally resonant as it is cleverly assembled, the film is a powerful meditation on the stories, secrets and heartbreaks stored by our devices. For more from Mappelbeck, watch The Waiting Room, a spiritual sequel to 160 Characters, in which she chronicles her life in the months following a cancer diagnosis.

Eight men reflect on their paths to prison – and imagine their alternative lives

An idiosyncratic patchwork of reflection, fantasy and atonement, the German director Adrian Figueroa’s experimental documentary Elsewhere invites viewers to step inside the minds of eight men serving extended terms in a German prison. As each inmate talks about the path that led him to incarceration, their distinct life stories, personalities and talents emerge, with the only clear connection between them being their shared quarters. While discussing topics ranging from the unparalleled highs of performing a robbery to the clarifying power of meditation, the men are green-screened into escapist settings aligned with their imaginary selves, and far removed from the drudgery of their locked-away lives. The result is at once enlightening and disorienting – and quite unlike any other ‘behind prison walls’ documentary you’re ever likely to see.

Elsewhere was awarded online distribution by Aeon Video at the 2020 Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival.

Director: Adrian Figueroa

Producer: Sibylle Arndt

The uncanny allure of the annual Cajun crawfish festival in Louisiana

Crawfish – small crustaceans also known as crayfish, crawdads or mudbugs – have long been a staple of Cajun cuisine, with the lobster-like creatures plentiful in the freshwaters of Louisiana. With an observational style and an experimental flair, Acadiana gathers scenes from a day at the state’s annual crawfish festival in Breaux Bridge. A crawfish eating competition, crawfish-inspired costumes and a float procession featuring the 2019 crowned Crawfish King and Queen are captured with a mix of anthropological curiosity and familial respect by the Québécois filmmakers Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau and Yannick Nolin. While its title references the French-Canadian roots of Cajun culture in the United States, there is something otherworldly about this short film, which went on to win several awards on the Canadian film-festival circuit.

Directors: Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau, Yannick Nolin

Producer: Jean-Pierre Vézina

Website: Kinomada

‘I hate giving you bad news’: when a daughter with breast cancer calls her mother

Danielle Hernandez is 30 and has Stage 4 breast cancer. As she calls her mother Violeta in Florida to deliver an update on her treatment from her home in Los Angeles, she oscillates between medical jargon and silver livings, with the more difficult pieces of information hidden in the subtext, only occasionally bubbling to the surface. This intimate conversation is captured by her roommate, the US filmmaker Lizzy Hogenson, in the short film Dani. Using a stop-motion technique that combines felt figures and claymation, Hogenson places her own veneer on the discussion, which is pierced by intermittent cracks of raw emotion, hard truths and silence. The result is at once affecting and distressing, as small moments of love, courage and pain spark and fade into uncertainty.

Director: Lizzy Hogenson

Producer: Kyle McClary

Creeping through mazes, repelling adversaries – the slow-motion smarts of slime moulds

To the naked eye, the organism Physarum polycephalum – commonly referred to as ‘slime mould’ – might seem an unexceptional creature, despite its bright-yellow glow, as its acellular existence is dedicated to tracking nutrients at a speed of 1mm per hour. But this protist’s surprising computational cunning becomes apparent when viewed in time-lapse, revealing a life form that seems to possess intelligence despite lacking a nervous system. Between 2009 and 2018, the UK artist and researcher Heather Barnett conducted a series of clever experiments in which she probed slime moulds’ capacities for forming complex tube networks and adjusting to obstacles. For this short film, Aeon Video compiled Barnett’s ‘creative collaborations’ with P polycephalum into a montage that builds in complexity, emphasising the slime moulds’ surprisingly sophisticated capacities for problem-solving.

Director: Heather Barnett

Sound designer: Graham Barton

Editor: Tamur Qutab

The story of a breakup, an unplanned pregnancy and a childhood – told in 100 texts

In 2003, when flip phones still ruled the world, the UK director and artist Victoria Mapplebeck found herself on the verge of a promising relationship with a man she had matched with through a dating agency. But just a few weeks later, her life was forever altered by an abrupt breakup and the subsequent news of an unplanned pregnancy. A decade later, she was inspired to revisit the painful story after charging up an old Nokia phone and recovering the text messages she and the man had sent one another over the course of three years. Mappelbeck’s resulting short documentary, 160 Characters, uses 100 texts to tell the story of how the two met, split up and lost touch, leaving her to raise their son Jim without a father in his life. As emotionally resonant as it is cleverly assembled, the film is a powerful meditation on the stories, secrets and heartbreaks stored by our devices. For more from Mappelbeck, watch The Waiting Room, a spiritual sequel to 160 Characters, in which she chronicles her life in the months following a cancer diagnosis.

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Namanga, Arusha Region, Tanzania. February 2018. © Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos with support from the Pulitzer Center

Essay/
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How parents are made

Attachment therapy helps us recognise and heal our childhood wounds so we can be free to become good parents ourselves

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Photo by Harry Gruyaert/Magnum

Essay/
Philosophy of mind
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In fiction, it grips us. In life, it can unravel us. How can brains hooked on certainty put its opposite to good use?

Mark Miller, Kathryn Nave, George Deane & Andy Clark