EXCLUSIVE

The escape agents

8 minutes

The clinic

16 minutes

Out of the blue

8 minutes

Soft awareness

13 minutes

Kitezh-Vladimirskoe

9 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

Basic healthcare and clean needles is all in a day’s work at a roving addiction clinic

Marc Lasher works as an addiction medicine specialist but, between his regular appointments, he oversees a clean-needle exchange on the streets of Fresno County in California, out the back of a modified school bus. Lasher’s decades-long dedication to public health is all the more impressive considering that his programme was illegal in the state until 2012. In the wake of the opioid epidemic, his approach – addressing drug addiction as a matter of public health rather than criminality – has only recently come into favour in much of the United States. In this acclaimed documentary, the US filmmaker Elivia Shaw follows Lasher and a team of young volunteers as they provide people coping with addiction with clean needles, as well as basic medical care and referrals to specialists and detox centres. The result is both a moving testament to Lasher and his team’s selfless work and a damning indictment of a healthcare system in which unaddressed health issues, costs and the physical and emotional tolls of poverty compound each other relentlessly.

Director: Elivia Shaw

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

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

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