No crying at the dinner table

16 minutes

It’s rocket science

5 minutes

A brief history of the devil

5 minutes

HAGS (have a good summer)

9 minutes

The rifleman

10 minutes

The walls come down on guarded emotions and secrets in an intimate family portrait

One of the most acclaimed short films of 2020, No Crying at the Dinner Table by the Vietnamese Canadian filmmaker Carol Nguyen is a uniquely conceived and powerfully executed family portrait. For the project, Nguyen sat down for one-on-one talks with her sister, mother and father on the topics – including difficult deaths and a lack of intimacy – that so often go undiscussed within families. In the case of the Nguyens family, these silences have been deepened by Vietnamese culture, in which emotional restraint is the norm. Finally, Nguyen played back these recordings for her family at their dinner table – a place where, as the film’s title alludes, her parents told her never to cry. Through this deeply personal work, Nguyen builds a complex and cathartic documentary – poignant, and permeated with a sense of hope.

Director: Carol Nguyen

Producer: Aziz Zoromba

How sky-high dreams launched one man’s audacious life in homemade rocketry

As the first civilian to successfully launch an amateur rocket into space in 2004, and a holder of a great many rocketry-related world records since the 1960s, Ky Michaelson has truly earned his self-anointed title as ‘The Rocketman’. Following a decorated career as a Hollywood stunt performer and coordinator, Michaelson, now aged 82, is retired from show business and spends most of his time building rockets in his garage. And his audacious spirit hasn’t mellowed with age. These days, he has his sights set on launching the first homemade manned rocket into space. This upbeat documentary portrait by the US-based director Rachel Knoll explores Michaelson’s unconventional path as a high-school dropout turned rocket engineer who wouldn’t let dyslexia stop him from aiming for the sky.

Director: Rachel Knoll

Producer: John Pesavent

The devils you know – how Satan became a versatile stand-in for all manner of evil

From the three-headed man-eater of Dante’s Inferno to the Mephistopheles of German folklore, clad and caped in red in a Goethe-penned stage production, depictions of Satan have mutated into a fearsome multitude of pitchfork-wielding, fire-summoning and otherwise malevolent creatures. But how did a somewhat minor character from the Old Testament evolve into a versatile shorthand for all manner of human evil? Featuring a parade of the many meme-ified devils that have come to permeate the public imagination, this crafty animation from TED-Ed provides a brief history of how some of Satan’s most infamous forms came to be.

Video by TED-Ed

Directors: Reza Riahi, Mehdi Shiri

Writer: Brian A Pavlac

A filmmaker reflects on his adolescence with the help of some long-lost friends

In HAGS (Have a Good Summer), the US filmmaker Sean Wang casts his newest project from the pages of his middle-school yearbook. Calling up five long-lost friends that he hasn’t spoken to in years, Wang zeroes in on the two most willing to chat – Way Chen, who’s working at a restaurant while trying to make it as a dancer, and Fahad Manzur, who worries he just might have peaked in eighth grade – for an exploration of middle school, young adulthood and the wide chasm in between. Overflowing with sound and sight gags, Wang brings an apt sense of carefree humour to the work. But beyond its novel concept and nostalgic charms, the film also offers touching reflections on identity, the second-generation American experience and how expectations of ‘adulthood’ evolve even after you reach it.

Director: Sean Wang

Animator: Deepti Menon

How did the NRA transform from a sporting group to a mighty political force?

Compiling newsreels, articles and television news reports, The Rifleman examines some four decades in the history of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Via these archival materials, the US director Sierra Pettengill frames her portrait of the controversial gun-rights group around Harlon Carter, the former NRA president and a US Border Patrol chief, with an overturned murder conviction to his name, who was central in forging the NRA’s transition from a sporting organisation to one of the most potent and controversial political forces in the United States. Tracing the many overlaps between Carter, the NRA and US Border Patrol, Pettengill finds a group that, since the dawn of Carter’s influence, has been propelled by reactionary racism.

Director: Sierra Pettengill

Producer: Arielle de Saint Phalle

Website: Field of Vision

The walls come down on guarded emotions and secrets in an intimate family portrait

One of the most acclaimed short films of 2020, No Crying at the Dinner Table by the Vietnamese Canadian filmmaker Carol Nguyen is a uniquely conceived and powerfully executed family portrait. For the project, Nguyen sat down for one-on-one talks with her sister, mother and father on the topics – including difficult deaths and a lack of intimacy – that so often go undiscussed within families. In the case of the Nguyens family, these silences have been deepened by Vietnamese culture, in which emotional restraint is the norm. Finally, Nguyen played back these recordings for her family at their dinner table – a place where, as the film’s title alludes, her parents told her never to cry. Through this deeply personal work, Nguyen builds a complex and cathartic documentary – poignant, and permeated with a sense of hope.

Director: Carol Nguyen

Producer: Aziz Zoromba

Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter

Photo by Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum

Essay/
Mood and emotion
Radical acceptance

The painful feelings you avoid grow twisted in the dark. By facing your sorrows and struggles you can take back your life

Joshua Coleman

Dani people preparing for a pig feast. Baliem Valley, West Papua, Indonesia, 1996. Photo by Susan Meiselas/Magnum

Essay/
Anthropology
How equality slipped away

For 97 per cent of human history, all people had about the same power and access to goods. How did inequality ratchet up?

Kim Sterelny