Sam and the plant next door

23 minutes

Out of the blue

8 minutes

Soft awareness

13 minutes

Kitezh-Vladimirskoe

9 minutes

Do you have imposter syndrome?

4 minutes

To fight a nearby nuclear plant, 11-year-old Sam must win his own ethical battle

Childhood offers no shortage of potential anxieties, from fitting in with peers, to succeeding in school, to dealing with parents. Eleven-year-old Sam’s hopes, fears and interests, however, are rather different from those of most of his classmates: Hinkley Point C, Britain’s largest nuclear power plant is going up next door to his home in Somerset, England, and Sam is deeply concerned about its effect on the environment – especially the marine life off the coast. Between discussing the the potential for a surprise war or the values of veganism with a friend, Sam is consumed by his dream of becoming a marine biologist. Perhaps he can protect the fish threatened by the plant? The problem is, the private schools that Sam thinks might best set him up for the profession are enormously expensive, and his parents don’t have the money. A conundrum arises for the exceedingly ethical Sam: Should he accept a contribution from the company that owns the plant to help his family offset the high cost of school? Constructed with nuance and care by the Copenhagen-based director Ömer Sami, Sam and the Plant Next Door (2019) is an affectionate exploration of a precocious childhood and what it’s like to have strong convictions at odds with the world around you.

Jim Hall, 78, has a blue body – but his outlook on life is more unusual still

‘I decided it was OK to have fun with my body … I probably have more balls than anybody!’

Jim Hall worked in urban development for four decades before retiring as the principal city planner of Baltimore. Aged 78 and beginning to feel some of his faculties slip, he is planning a move to Texas to live out his final years. These unremarkable details of his biography might seem at odds with his unique look – most conspicuously, the blue tattoo covering almost every inch of his skin. But despite the unusual choices he’s made to modify his body – including some unusual, intimate augmentations hidden from view – Hall’s outlook on life is deeply practical, centred on playfulness and an enduring sense of gratitude for what he sees as the incredible gift of being a human. With a palette that complements Hall’s own chosen colours, this short documentary from the US directors Jonathan Bregel and Steve Hoover finds wonder and wisdom in a man who is as hard to define as he is plain-spoken and pragmatic.

Directors: Jonathan Bregel, Steve Hoover

Website: friendzone

What’s it like to chat with an AI that mimics you? Uncanny conversations with Replika

Replika is a chatbot that was launched in 2017 with the aim of offering users emotional support – or, as the company’s advertising copy puts it, becoming their ‘AI friend’. To give users a personalised experience, the deep learning bot gathers information about conversation partners by asking them questions, adapts to their conversational style and, over time, attempts to mimic them. Beyond companionship, Replika’s creators believe that the technology could eventually serve as a conversational stand-in for deceased loves ones.

In Soft Awareness, Anastasia Sif Karkazis, a Danish film student and co-director of the film, engages in a series of conversations with Replika, drifting between a series of loosely connected subjects – including art, dreams and identity. Throughout, the exchanges seem to teeter between meaningful and unintelligible, offering a window on Karkazis’s inner world, how Replika ‘understands’ her, and the many hazy areas in between. Beneath the surface of these uncanny exchanges, larger questions about privacy and the contours of intimacy between humans and AI slowly emerge.

Via Labocine

Directors: Cecilie Flyger, Olivia Mai Scheibye

Co-director: Anastasia Sif Karkazis

Website: Copenhagen School of Film and Photography

Postcards from Vladimirskoye – the sleepy town near the ‘Russian Atlantis’

According to Russian legend, in the 13th century, the mythical city of Kitezh was on the verge of being ransacked by Mongols when its residents began to pray. In an instant, water spouted from the earth, at once submerging the city and protecting Kitezh from invaders. Today, in the Nizhny Novgorod region, Lake Svetloyar – the body of water that Kitezh supposedly sunk into – is a tourist destination for both the faithful and those simply wishing to enjoy its beaches. The flow of visitors, however, barely touches the small town of Vladimirskoye just a kilometre away. In Kitezh-Vladimirskoe, the Dutch photographer and filmmaker Pieter Ten Hoopen depicts town life in a series of intertwining tableaux – baptisms, kids on their bikes, old men shouting from windows – all suffused with a comically incongruent soundtrack. It’s an offbeat, charming portrait of a place, like a series of moving postcards from an ordinary town off the tourist track.

Director: Pieter Ten Hoopen

Do you feel like a fraud after a success? It can mean you’re doing something well

‘When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud, and take everything away from me?’
Tom Hanks, winner of two Oscars, four Golden Globes and six Emmys, interviewed in 2016

First coined in a 1978 research paper on high-achieving women in the workplace, the term ‘imposter syndrome’ describes those who believe they have less talent that others think, who attribute any personal successes to luck, and who worry that they’ll ultimately be exposed as the frauds they perceive themselves to be. This kind of reflexive self-doubt is not so much a ‘syndrome’ as it is a widespread state of psychological distortion, with roughly 70 per cent of people experiencing it at some point in their lives. In this video from BBC Ideas, Sandi Mann, a psychologist and lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, discusses the roots of imposter syndrome and details some practical ways to fight it.

Video by BBC Ideas

Website: We Are Tilt

To fight a nearby nuclear plant, 11-year-old Sam must win his own ethical battle

Childhood offers no shortage of potential anxieties, from fitting in with peers, to succeeding in school, to dealing with parents. Eleven-year-old Sam’s hopes, fears and interests, however, are rather different from those of most of his classmates: Hinkley Point C, Britain’s largest nuclear power plant is going up next door to his home in Somerset, England, and Sam is deeply concerned about its effect on the environment – especially the marine life off the coast. Between discussing the the potential for a surprise war or the values of veganism with a friend, Sam is consumed by his dream of becoming a marine biologist. Perhaps he can protect the fish threatened by the plant? The problem is, the private schools that Sam thinks might best set him up for the profession are enormously expensive, and his parents don’t have the money. A conundrum arises for the exceedingly ethical Sam: Should he accept a contribution from the company that owns the plant to help his family offset the high cost of school? Constructed with nuance and care by the Copenhagen-based director Ömer Sami, Sam and the Plant Next Door (2019) is an affectionate exploration of a precocious childhood and what it’s like to have strong convictions at odds with the world around you.

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