Vultures of Tibet

21 minutes

The sound of gravity

13 minutes

Daily life in Egypt: ancient and modern

27 minutes

The trouble with love and sex

50 minutes

Don’t think twice

12 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

How science finally caught up with Einstein’s prediction of gravitational waves

In 1916, shortly after publishing his theory of general relativity, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves – warps in space time caused by accelerating matter that ripple outward at the speed of light. However, he believed these ripples would be so slight as to be undetectable, before eventually abandoning the concept altogether. But following decades of scientific developments suggesting their existence, as well as technological innovations making their detection possible, in 2015 a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the California Institute of Technology recorded humanity’s first direct observation of the phenomena.

Created by the US filmmakers Sarah Klein and Tom Mason in collaboration with the MIT School of Science, this documentary tracks how the US physicist Rai Weiss, now professor emeritus at MIT, stood on the shoulders of his fields’ biggest giant to prove the existence of gravitational waves, a century after Einstein had predicted them. Relaying an inspiring story of imagination, ingenuity and dedication giving rise to a monumental breakthrough, the documentary reflects on how scientific ideas travel – often circuitously – across generations.

Directors: Sarah Klein, Tom Mason

Websites: Redglass Pictures, MIT School of Science

Stunning century-old footage of the Nile valley carries echoes from the ancient past

Released by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1925, this short film features nearly century-old footage of daily life in the Nile valley. With a distinctly Western perspective, the piece establishes similarities between early 20th-century Egypt and Pharaonic Egyptian life – including mud brick architecture, preindustrial farming and weaving techniques, and the centrality of festivals and the river to the region’s culture. As hinted at by the introductory titles, these through-lines from ancient past to then-present are perhaps overstated, with centuries of Islamisation and Arabisation following the conquest of Roman Egypt in the 7th century CE barely acknowledged. Despite this shortcoming, the refurbished footage is still a visual thrill, providing an extraordinary window into life along the Nile valley as it existed at the dawn of anthropological filmmaking.

Video by The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cinematographers: Harry Burton, Albert M Lythgoe

‘What does sex mean to you?’ A fly-on-the-wall view of relationship counselling

Iain and Susan have been together for 33 years but they can’t seem to have a conversation without it spiralling into an argument. Dave longs for a loving a relationship, but lacks the confidence to ask anyone out. Ian and Mandy are struggling with personal and sexual intimacy after Ian is diagnosed with a tumour. With animated avatars protecting the anonymity of the participants, The Trouble With Love and Sex (2011) explores these stories of relationship troubles via recordings from inside the walls of Relate – a UK charity that provides couples counselling. Allowing glimpses into a world often only experienced firsthand or in fiction, the UK director Zac Beattie’s touching film approaches the complex business of intimacy, loneliness and therapy with due nuance and care, revealing the many ways that relationships shape the human experience – for better or worse.

Director: Zac Beattie

Animation Director: Jonathan Hodgson

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

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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