EXCLUSIVE

The escape agents

8 minutes

Daily life in Egypt: ancient and modern

27 minutes

The trouble with love and sex

50 minutes

Don’t think twice

12 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Ping pong Sufi

11 minutes

Unearthed photos reveal what happened to those who dared to flee through the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall separated Allied-controlled West Berlin from Soviet-controlled East Berlin from 1961 to 1989. An infamous emblem of the Cold War, the wall’s meaning was far from figurative for those friends, families and communities separated by its 66 miles of concrete, with potentially lethal consequences for those who attempted to cross it illegally. While around 5,000 people made it through to West Berlin, an estimated 200 defectors were shot while trying to escape from the East.

Released on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the short film The Escape Agents takes a novel approach to telling one such defection story. The US filmmaker Scott Calonico obtained a cache of photographs from security service records of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). One sequence in these never-before-seen images shows the arrest of a West German couple and the East German family – a couple and their young child – they were trying to smuggle out in the boot of their car on 3 September 1988. While this arrest was all-too-real, the photographs were in fact staged after the event: the East German guards forced all five people to reenact their attempted escape for training purposes. Working from these photos, the film dramatises the scene from the perspective of the East German mother – one of the estimated 2,000 parents deemed ‘unreliable’ by the GDR whose children were given to politically loyal families.

Director: Scott Calonico

Producer: Jeff Radice

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

‘I’m just measuring myself with myself’ – ping pong as a route to Sufi spiritual practice

A practitioner of the inward-looking form of Islam known as Sufism, Noah Nazir pursues self-improvement as a means of connecting with God. This is especially true at the ping pong table at his local Sufi centre in Sheffield, where Nazir is ever in search of new and creative ways to up his game. And, as he relays in Ping Pong Sufi, his striving has yielded some impressive results. Despite his age and a recent stroke, he’s one of the centre’s best players – even though, he stresses, he views his only competition as from within, commenting: ‘I’m just measuring myself with myself.’ The UK filmmakers Rachel Genn and Connor Matheson cultivate an appropriately meditative mood in their short documentary, made in 2019, capturing Nazir as he seeks transcendence through ping pong and prayer. The result is an illuminating and novel window into Sufi spiritual practice, which is given a musical lift by the multitalented Nazir, who also composed the song that plays over the closing credits.

Directors: Rachel Genn, Connor Matheson

Unearthed photos reveal what happened to those who dared to flee through the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall separated Allied-controlled West Berlin from Soviet-controlled East Berlin from 1961 to 1989. An infamous emblem of the Cold War, the wall’s meaning was far from figurative for those friends, families and communities separated by its 66 miles of concrete, with potentially lethal consequences for those who attempted to cross it illegally. While around 5,000 people made it through to West Berlin, an estimated 200 defectors were shot while trying to escape from the East.

Released on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the short film The Escape Agents takes a novel approach to telling one such defection story. The US filmmaker Scott Calonico obtained a cache of photographs from security service records of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). One sequence in these never-before-seen images shows the arrest of a West German couple and the East German family – a couple and their young child – they were trying to smuggle out in the boot of their car on 3 September 1988. While this arrest was all-too-real, the photographs were in fact staged after the event: the East German guards forced all five people to reenact their attempted escape for training purposes. Working from these photos, the film dramatises the scene from the perspective of the East German mother – one of the estimated 2,000 parents deemed ‘unreliable’ by the GDR whose children were given to politically loyal families.

Director: Scott Calonico

Producer: Jeff Radice

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

French chefs take part in a videoconference with President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace in Paris, 24 April 2020. Photo by Ludovic Marin/Reuters

Essay/
Technology and the self
Zoom and gloom

Sitting in a videoconference is a uniformly crap experience. Instead of corroding our humanity, let’s design tools to enhance it

Robert O’Toole

Detail of a miniature of Arthur slaying the Spanish giant on the island of Mont-Saint-Michel (1471-1483), by Jean de Wavrin. Royal 15 E IV f. 156. Courtesy the Trustees of the British Library

Essay/
Stories and literature
Empire of fantasy

By conquering young minds, the writing of J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis worked to recapture a world that was swiftly ebbing away

Maria Sachiko Cecire