EXCLUSIVE

The escape agents

8 minutes

Dani

8 minutes

The physarum experiments

5 minutes

Kierkegaard’s horror of doubt

7 minutes

Is our attention for sale?

4 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

‘I hate giving you bad news’: when a daughter with breast cancer calls her mother

Danielle Hernandez is 30 and has Stage 4 breast cancer. As she calls her mother Violeta in Florida to deliver an update on her treatment from her home in Los Angeles, she oscillates between medical jargon and silver livings, with the more difficult pieces of information hidden in the subtext, only occasionally bubbling to the surface. This intimate conversation is captured by her roommate, the US filmmaker Lizzy Hogenson, in the short film Dani. Using a stop-motion technique that combines felt figures and claymation, Hogenson places her own veneer on the discussion, which is pierced by intermittent cracks of raw emotion, hard truths and silence. The result is at once affecting and distressing, as small moments of love, courage and pain spark and fade into uncertainty.

Director: Lizzy Hogenson

Producer: Kyle McClary

Creeping through mazes, repelling adversaries – the slow-motion smarts of slime moulds

To the naked eye, the organism Physarum polycephalum – commonly referred to as ‘slime mould’ – might seem an unexceptional creature, despite its bright-yellow glow, as its acellular existence is dedicated to tracking nutrients at a speed of 1mm per hour. But this protist’s surprising computational cunning becomes apparent when viewed in time-lapse, revealing a life form that seems to possess intelligence despite lacking a nervous system. Between 2009 and 2018, the UK artist and researcher Heather Barnett conducted a series of clever experiments in which she probed slime moulds’ capacities for forming complex tube networks and adjusting to obstacles. For this short film, Aeon Video compiled Barnett’s ‘creative collaborations’ with P polycephalum into a montage that builds in complexity, emphasising the slime moulds’ surprisingly sophisticated capacities for problem-solving.

Director: Heather Barnett

Sound designer: Graham Barton

Editor: Tamur Qutab

Want to think for yourself? Start with an agonising state of doubt, says Kierkegaard

Influenced by Socrates’ sense of irony, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) came to believe that a state of doubt – disorienting and horrifying as it could sometimes be – was the cornerstone of a sound philosophical practice. This scepticism of objective truth and ardent belief in thinking for oneself is omnipresent in his pseudonymous works, in which his assumed names sometimes even spar with one another. While amusing, the peculiar literary device also undercuts any sense that the works were written by a voice of authority. In this video from the London Review of Books, the British philosopher and historian Jonathan Rée traces the theme of doubt in Kierkegaard’s life and work using his unfinished, posthumously published novel Johannes Climacus: Or a Life of Doubt as a starting point.

Video by the London Review of Books

Producer: Anthony Wilks

A handful of executives control the ‘attention economy’. Time for attentive resistance

From fitness tracking devices to search engines, it’s easy to think of personalised technologies as convenient shortcuts and useful tools for working towards goals. But, argues James Williams, a doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute and a former Google employee, the primary aim of personalised tech is to keep users coming back by any means necessary – and often in a way that encourages empty distraction. In this brief animation featuring audio from a 2017 lecture at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) in London, Williams makes the case that the consolidation of the ‘attention economy’ to just a handful of companies is an unprecedented and deeply fraught human experiment – and one that demands active, attentive resistance.

Video by the RSA

Director: Olga Makarchuk

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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Detail of ‘Siege of the City’ by Jean Charlot, watercolour of a fresco at Chichén Itzá. The Maya mural from the Las Monjas building clearly shows a ship with the distinct wooden planks of a Viking boat © Jean Charlot/Artists Rights Society [ARS]; Copyright Agency, 2020

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