Vultures of Tibet

21 minutes

Thai country living

15 minutes

It’s rocket science

5 minutes

A brief history of the devil

5 minutes

HAGS (have a good summer)

9 minutes

To Tibetan Buddhists, sky burials are sacred. To tourists, they’re a morbid curiosity

Relations between Tibet and China have been fraught for centuries. However, China’s 1950 invasion of Tibet, and its repression of an ensuing 1959 Tibetan uprising which resulted in the Dalai Lama fleeing to India, marked a definitive turning point. Since that time, the migration of Han Chinese – China’s ethnic majority – and an influx of global tourism to the region has resulted in significant encroachments on and challenges to traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture.

Filmed in 2011, the US director Russell O Bush’s short documentary Vultures of Tibet offers a small window on to cultural tensions on the Tibetan Plateau. Set in the historically Buddhist town of Taktsang Lhamo, home to two monasteries, the film is centred on the practice of sky burials, in which the bodies of the Tibetan dead are fed to wild griffon vultures. For the town’s Tibetan Buddhist population, it is a sacred means of helping the dead’s spirit transition to the next life – a final earthly offering to creatures believed to have the wisdom of deities. However, for much of the rest of the world, the tradition is a morbid curiosity, and increasingly attracts unwelcome tourists, whose pictures end up in all corners of the internet. An accomplished work of contemporary anthropology, Bush’s film is a powerful examination of nature and culture, tradition and modernity, oppression and exploitation.

Director: Russell O Bush

Producers: Annie Bush

Websites: Vultures of Tibet, From the Woods

The rhythms of rural Thailand, where both food and music are sourced from the ground

Thai Country Living is a film with a title that doesn’t leave you wondering. This charming short documentary by the UK filmmakers Ben and Dan Tubby (also known as the Tubby Brothers) takes viewers on a brief journey to the Isaan region, in Thailand’s northeast. The host for the trip, Suman Tapkham, provides the home cooking, with ingredients fresh from his small farm; the music comes via a bamboo instrument known as a khaen, which Tapkham crafts by hand; and the warm conversation is largely made of reflections on his life spent in the country, and his worries that the unique culture there might soon be lost. Through their portrait, the Tubby Brothers capture a slice of Thailand far from the bustle of Bangkok most commonly associated with the country, and, for many viewers, a more than welcome portion of armchair travel.

Directors: Ben Tubby, Dan Tubby

Producer: Somboon Vichaisre

Website: Tubby Brother Films

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

To Tibetan Buddhists, sky burials are sacred. To tourists, they’re a morbid curiosity

Relations between Tibet and China have been fraught for centuries. However, China’s 1950 invasion of Tibet, and its repression of an ensuing 1959 Tibetan uprising which resulted in the Dalai Lama fleeing to India, marked a definitive turning point. Since that time, the migration of Han Chinese – China’s ethnic majority – and an influx of global tourism to the region has resulted in significant encroachments on and challenges to traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture.

Filmed in 2011, the US director Russell O Bush’s short documentary Vultures of Tibet offers a small window on to cultural tensions on the Tibetan Plateau. Set in the historically Buddhist town of Taktsang Lhamo, home to two monasteries, the film is centred on the practice of sky burials, in which the bodies of the Tibetan dead are fed to wild griffon vultures. For the town’s Tibetan Buddhist population, it is a sacred means of helping the dead’s spirit transition to the next life – a final earthly offering to creatures believed to have the wisdom of deities. However, for much of the rest of the world, the tradition is a morbid curiosity, and increasingly attracts unwelcome tourists, whose pictures end up in all corners of the internet. An accomplished work of contemporary anthropology, Bush’s film is a powerful examination of nature and culture, tradition and modernity, oppression and exploitation.

Director: Russell O Bush

Producers: Annie Bush

Websites: Vultures of Tibet, From the Woods

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

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